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Tuesday, September 16, 2014
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Published: Friday, 4/1/2011

Dubious battle

Gov. John Kasich's approval of Senate Bill 5 does not assure the end of collective-bargaining rights for public employees in Ohio. Rather, it signals the start of a new stage in an unnecessary partisan battle.

The state's collective-bargaining law does need to be revised. In better economic times, local governments and school boards too often traded unreasonable concessions for labor peace. Democratic officeholders in particular tended to be sympathetic to demands from unions on which they depended for electoral support.

Unions won work rules that elevated seniority over job performance and restricted management's ability to make staffing decisions. As a result, cash-strapped local governments and school boards often have found themselves saddled with contracts they cannot afford and little wiggle room to make changes.

The collective-bargaining law the General Assembly approved this week addresses some of these issues. It requires public employees to pay at least 15 percent of their health-insurance costs and restricts the items subject to negotiation. It replaces raises based on seniority with a merit-based system and gets rid of last-hired, first-fired rules that can penalize talented employees whose only fault is that they are young.

But Governor Kasich and the Republican-majority General Assembly decided not to stop at leveling the playing field. Instead of passing a bill Ohioans could embrace as fair and reasonable, they made it about ideology.

Thus, the law includes a provision that eliminates the "fair share" nonunion workers must pay when they benefit from union contract negotiations. It allows the decertification of unions on a vote of only 30 percent of workers, down from the current majority. It replaces binding arbitration with a provision allowing a governing body simply to impose its last offer when an impasse occurs.

The law also would allow voters to resolve some contract disputes -- an unreasonable burden to place on voters. School board members and local government officials, who have much more detailed knowledge about contracts, should do the jobs they were elected to do, not pass their responsibilities to voters.

The new law goes beyond saving money or giving more flexibility to local governments. It is designed to reduce the political influence of one of the Democratic Party's strongest supporters.

But Democrats and unions didn't help their cause. Instead of offering an alternative, they refused to give an inch, gearing up instead to ask voters to strike down the law this November.

Reasonable people could have crafted a law that would have given relief to Ohio governments without gutting worker rights. It's called compromise. It's what governments are supposed to do.

But reasonable voices are in short supply in Columbus and in the state's union halls. As the battle over the collective-bargaining law heats up this summer, they could become extinct.



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