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Published: Thursday, 9/8/2011

Senate Bill 5 backers defend Bell ad timing

Group denies it's responding to firefighters

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS -- The campaign to save Ohio's new public-employee collective bargaining law said Wednesday it did not rush to air an ad featuring Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, a former city firefighter, in an effort to counter criticism of the law by rank-and-file firefighters.

"This is not a response ad," said Jason Mauk, spokesman for the Building a Better Ohio political action committee. "Several weeks ago we said we'd go on the air around the Labor Day point, and this is the first to air in that schedule. Mayor Bell happened to be a firefighter, but firefighters are one of many different types of government employees impacted by Issue 2.

"Mayor Bell has a powerful personal story," he said. "Frankly, he has a lot of credibility, having been on all sides of the debate."

In the ad, Mr. Bell talks about having been laid off as a firefighter early in his career because of city finances and argues that Senate Bill 5 would provide officials like him with the tools necessary to prevent doing that again or raising taxes.

The law would restrict the collective-bargaining power of police, firefighters, teachers, clerks, and other government workers. Among numerous other provisions, it would prohibit them from striking, require them to pay at least 15 percent of their medical-coverage premiums, substitute a performance pay system for automatic longevity pay hikes, and prohibit government employers from picking up any portion of a worker's share of his pension contributions.

The first anti-Senate Bill 5 ad, which started Labor Day weekend, focused on firefighters who said they fear the law's prohibition on negotiating staffing levels in stations and on fire trucks will undermine public safety.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mauk said there's been no interaction between the Building a Better Ohio committee and a new federal nonprofit corporation, Make Ohio Great, created by the Republican Governors' Association. He said governors group has also not contributed financially to Building a Better Ohio's own federal nonprofit parent corporation.

The governors group spent millions to air ads last year to help elect Gov. John Kasich. It has now gone on the air with a TV ad featuring the governor talking about the "new path'' Ohio has taken with his budget and job-creation policies.

The ad does not specifically mention Senate Bill 5.

"We're all in this journey together," Mr. Kasich says while literally standing at a crossroads. "It won't always be easy, but you better believe we'll do what's best for Ohio."

The governor's own poll numbers have been low, coinciding with at least initial polling that suggests voters are prepared to reject Senate Bill 5 on Nov. 8. Democrats have done their best to tie the two together.

"These policies, like John Kasich himself, are so unpopular with Ohioans that he needs his millionaire friends in Washington to flood the airwaves and defend his disastrous agenda," Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said. "The only way that we can make Ohio great is by strengthening and expanding our middle class, but John Kasich's path as governor has taken us in the exact opposite direction."

HIGHLIGHTS OF OHIO LABOR LAW (ISSUE 2)
  • Prohibits strikes by all public employees.
  • Requires public employees to pay at least 15 percent of health-insurance premiums.
  • Prohibits local governments from picking up any portion of an employee's share of his pension contributions.
  • Limits subjects of mandatory negotiation to wages, hours, terms and conditions of employment, and, in cases involving public safety employees and nurses, safety equipment.
  • Eliminates final binding arbitration as the means to end contract disputes involving public safety employees and replaces it with a new system for all public employees involving mediation, fact-finding, a public hearing, and final vote on proposals by the legislative body of the government employer.
  • Eliminates automatic longevity or step pay increases for most employees in favor of a performance pay system.
  • Expands the definition of "supervisor" exempted from collective bargaining to include high-ranking police and fire officers as well as some college and university professors.
  • Prevents automatic paycheck deduction of "fair share'' fees, in lieu of dues, from those who refuse to join the workplace union.
  • Prohibits seniority from being the sole determiner of the order of layoffs.
  • Caps vacation leave and reduces sick leave accrual for many employees.

Mr. Bell is the only mayor of a major Ohio city to endorse Senate Bill 5. A former city fire chief, he was appointed state fire marshal by Mr. Kasich's Democratic predecessor, Gov. Ted Strickland, and worked last year to try to re-elect him. Mr. Bell was elected mayor in 2009 as an independent.

Currently facing four city union contracts expiring this year, he's had some success under the current law in forcing midcontract concessions by some of the unions. Mr. Bell has argued that labor law must take into consideration a city's ability to pay the terms of a contract.

"Mike Bell's point of view represents a lot of Ohioans,'' Mr. Mauk said. "They're in the middle. They're tired of political gamesmanship and political rhetoric. They want to look at the facts that affect not only the state but also their pocketbooks at home. … The fact is that communities are out of money, and taxpayers are not willing to pay any more."

Melissa Fazekas, spokesman for the anti-Senate Bill 5 committee, We Are Ohio, said the two new ads feature "politicians" while its efforts focus on the rank and file directly affected by Senate Bill 5.

"The politicians behind Issue 2 want us to do what they say, not what they do,'' she said.

"They blame firefighters, nurses, and teachers for the budget problems they created by giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax breaks to their corporate campaign contributors, while at the same time cutting funding to local communities for safety services."

Ms. Fazekas said such actions demonstrated the priorities of Ohio's leaders.

"The hypocrisy never seems to end with these guys," Ms. Fazekas said.

"Today Ohioans are left with one simple question: Who do you trust more -- hypocritical politicians who support this unsafe and unfair law or firefighters who risk their lives to serve and protect us?"

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



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