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Published: Monday, 8/29/2011

Opponents won't use Sept. 11 in SB5 campaign

Labor: Politics, tragedy don’t mix

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — As Ohio lawmakers prepared to vote on a bill in the spring to limit the collective-bargaining power of police, firefighters, and other public employees, they were repeatedly reminded of the first-responders rushing into the doomed World Trade Center towers.

With the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks coinciding with the fall campaign and in close proximity to Labor Day, observers widely presumed such images would be prominent in the campaign to convince voters to overturn Senate Bill 5 at the polls.

But Jay McDonald, a Marion police officer and president of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, said politics and 9/11 mourning do not mix.

“We’re going out of our way not to tie politics to 9/11,” he said. “This is not a place for partisan politics. We will remember the heroes who died that day, the first responders who responded along with the victims in the towers, the Pentagon, and on that flight in Pennsylvania. We’re not going to tie the two things together.”

Voters will be asked Nov. 8 whether they approve or disapprove of Senate Bill 5, a law passed solely with Republican votes and signed by Gov. John Kasich that would make the most dramatic changes to Ohio’s collective-bargaining law in nearly three decades. The law has been placed on hold pending the outcome of the Nov. 8 vote.

Among its numerous provisions, the law would prohibit public-employee strikes, reduce the subjects for discussion at the bargaining table, require workers to pay at least 15 percent of their health-care premiums, and prohibit local governments from picking up any of an employee’s share of his pension contributions.

The law eliminates the ability of workplace unions to automatically deduct “fair-share” fees in lieu of dues from the paychecks of employees who refuse to join.

We Are Ohio, the statewide coalition of Democratic and private and public-sector unions fighting Senate Bill 5, said it is united in not mixing its message with 9/11.

“There needs to be a day of remembrance,” spokesman Melissa Fazekas said. “We know police and firefighters will be holding their own activities and programs to remember the lives lost on Sept. 11. We felt it was important to honor those people and not do anything campaign-related at those events. We won’t do anything to remotely politicize Sept. 11.”

Building a Better Ohio, the largely business and Republican-backed effort to convince voters to preserve Senate Bill 5, said it believes its opposition made the right decision on this one.

“Any time you use an event that deals with a loss of life, you are treading on very sensitive and, you might say, dangerous territory with the electorate,” spokesman Jason Mauk said. “It’s almost hard to convey the sentiment. They would have to give very serious consideration to the potential for blowback from voters who believe that’s going too far.

“We certainly will not use that date and those events to score political points, and we hope our opponents would agree to the same,” he said.

We Are Ohio said no decision has been made as to whether 9/11 might factor into the campaign’s plans after the anniversary and immediate memorials have passed, but Mr. McDonald said he knows of no discussion along those lines.

“The FOP is not going to put out advertising connecting Senate Bill 5 to 9/11,” Mr. McDonald said.

The police group plans to hold ceremonies commemorating the 10th anniversary of the worst attack ever on U.S. soil that killed nearly 3,000 people in the two New York towers, in the Pentagon, and on the four hijacked planes that crashed into them and into a field in rural southwestern Pennsylvania.

The correlation between then and now is not lost on anyone, Mr. McDonald said.

“It’s just as relevant today as 10 years ago,” he said. “We run toward gunfire and burning buildings. I don’t think people will forget or misunderstand that. But I don’t think it’s appropriate to politicize it.”

The law eliminates binding arbitration, the system used to bring finality to contract disputes involving police, firefighters, and other public safety forces because they are the only public employees forbidden from striking under state law until passage of Senate Bill 5.

Under binding arbitration, both sides submit their final best offers to a fact finder who picks and chooses between the proposals to fashion a contract the local government must accept. Mr. Kasich and other critics have complained that system doesn’t take into consideration the taxpayers’ ability to pay contract terms.

Senate Bill 5 replaces that system with a process of mediation and public hearings that leads to a final vote by the legislative body of the government employer, essentially management, between the two sides’ last best offers. This process would apply to all public employees who would not be forbidden from striking.

While the campaign of words over Senate Bill 5 is well under way, both sides of the ballot-issue fight are gearing up for what is expected to be a bitter, costly campaign with public and private-sector labor organizations and Democrats largely lining up on one side against business interests and Republicans on the other.

Building a Better Ohio recently added the National Federation of Independent Business of Ohio to its list of official backers, which also includes the broader Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com, or 614-221-0496.



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