For all its noxious features, Senate Bill 5 — Issue 2 on the November ballot — is winning support from Ohio voters who reject the idea that they should pay higher taxes or take cuts in government services so that public employees can maintain pay, benefits, and job security that they don’t get.
It’s a reasonable argument, but it continues to elude public employee unions that disdain necessary modernization of the 28-year-old state law that defines the collective-bargaining rights of government workers. Hence the dreadful choice before voters this fall: destructive change, or no change at all.
The most recent example of union denial of economic reality comes courtesy of Local 7 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which represents about 850 non-uniformed City of Toledo workers. This week, local members soundly rejected an independent fact finder’s report in their contract dispute with the city, then marched outside One Government Center to protest their ill treatment.
What abuses are members of the largest city union, whose average pay is $38,000 a year, expected to endure? A two-year wage freeze (after a 2 percent raise this year). A suggestion that they pay as much as 15 percent of the cost of their health insurance; they now pay 5 percent. A proposal that they pay the full 10 percent share of their own contributions to their pensions; taxpayers now pick up that expense.
These concessions don’t merit a chorus of “Happy Days Are Here Again.” But they might not sound too bad to private-sector workers in Toledo who have endured big cuts in their pay and hours to keep jobs that pay less — assuming they have been lucky enough to avoid getting laid off.
Many of these workers would welcome the opportunity to pay just 15 percent of their health-insurance costs. And no one subsidizes their pension contributions.
Union officials complain that the fact-finder’s proposals, if enacted, would “take too much too fast.” But the employees would keep their jobs and their current pay rates. In a city where one of every nine workers is unemployed, and many more are underemployed or have stopped looking for work, that does not seem an intolerable bargain.
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell said Wednesday he will urge City Council to adopt legislation that would carry out the fact-finder’s proposals. He argues plausibly that the only alternative to reasonable concessions by Local 7 members is a package of mass employee layoffs and drastic service cuts.
“I don’t have money in the budget to do what [the union] asked us to do,” Mr. Bell told The Blade’s editorial board on Wednesday. “Why should our people feel they’re being mistreated, when the regular people of Toledo have already been through this?”
City officials always must look for other ways to cut spending, as the union argues. But because employee compensation accounts for about three-fourths of the municipal budget, the city cannot maintain the status quo in that area and keep its finances in balance amid an economy that remains lousy.
AFSCME is pressuring City Council members, half of whom face re-election this year, to take their side and reject the fact finder’s proposals. In this instance, council would do better to stand with the mayor and with taxpayers who also seek “fairness” — and who also vote.
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