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Two former mayors of Toledo will stand side by side today in opposition to Issue 2 -- countering the high-profile stance of Toledo's current mayor, Mike Bell.
Former Mayors Jack Ford and Carty Finkbeiner are expected to denounce the proposed law as bad for Toledo's middle class and for safety.
They said in interviews yesterday that they don't believe the city needs the help of Senate Bill 5 to be able to manage relations with its employees.
They'll speak at a news conference planned for 2:30 p.m. at Government Center, where city hall offices are.
The joint news conference is part of a stream of events being staged by unions and Democrats to urge voters to vote down Issue 2, the referendum on the Republican-backed collective bargaining bill, Senate Bill 5, in the Nov. 8 election.
If it is upheld, Issue 2 would outlaw public employee strikes, restrict the issues that unions can negotiate on, exempt some command officers and some college professors from collective bargaining, eliminate automatic pay raises for most employees in favor of performance pay, and require minimum employee contributions to health care and pension plans, among its many provisions.
Mr. Ford, who was mayor from 2002 to 2006, said the state law weakens Toledo's rights as a home rule city, and said he believes there's a political agenda behind it.
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"I see it as a failed effort to take Ohio into the right-to-work column," Mr. Ford said. "When I was mayor, and I think when Carty was mayor, we had some tough negotiations with unions but we never tried to undermine collective bargaining," said Mr. Ford.
"I think handcuffing labor as this seems to be doing goes too far," Mr. Ford said.
Mr. Finkbeiner said he doesn't believe Mayor Bell has bad intentions, "but I do believe Mayor Bell has allowed himself to be used by Governor [John] Kasich."
He said failed banking and housing policies, not unions, have brought about the current economic woes.
Mr. Kasich, who supports Issue 2, appeared with Mayor Bell at a Republican-sponsored rally last week in Toledo. Mr. Bell, a longtime Democrat, ran for mayor in 2009 as an independent.
Mr. Finkbeiner recalled bitter contract disputes with city unions but said they always ended with a handshake.
"We do not at this time need the animosity that we experienced in the late 1970s," Mr. Finkbeiner said, referring to two days of chaos during a strike of city police officers and firefighters that helped pave the way for passage of an Ohio collective bargaining law in 1983. He said the oversight and restrictions placed on collective bargaining in Senate Bill 5 are "degrading" to unionized police officers, firefighters, nurses and teachers, and to the city.
Mr. Finkbeiner laid off 75 firefighters for part of 2009 when he was faced with a deficit.
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Mr. Finkbeiner was mayor from 1994 to 2002 and again from 2006 to 2010. He and Mr. Ford were political adversaries in 2005 when Mr. Finkbeiner defeated Mr. Ford's re-election bid.
Since that bitterly fought election, Mr. Finkbeiner supported Mr. Ford's run for Toledo Board of Education and said he has visited him since his recent hospitalization for a variety of health problems. Mr. Ford said he doesn't harbor grudges against anyone and said that he and Mr. Finkbeiner have been political allies in the past, including in drafting the strong-mayor legislation that Toledo voters approved in 1992.
Another thing they have in common is both were Mike Bell's boss. Mayor Bell was the city fire chief from 1990 to 2007, and both mayors said he defended the collective bargaining process during his tenure.
Mayor Bell, who has appeared in a television commercial endorsing Issue 2, said Toledo is struggling with a structural fiscal problem that goes back a decade, but that the city unions have been resistant about making concessions that will help him avoid having to lay off employees.
He said the city had a $19.5 million balance in its general fund and a rainy day fund of $14.5 million at the end of 2001. When he took office almost a decade later, the rainy day fund was empty and he faced a $48 million deficit.
"It's been going on for 10 years without a solution and people kicking the can down the road," Mr. Bell said, noting that the city had to sell assets, including the Marina District and the Docks, to balance the 2011 budget.
He said layoffs would amount to a tax increase on the public because the public would be paying the same amount of taxes for reduced services.
"I'm absolutely clear on what I'm doing and absolutely clear on the reasons it has to be done. It's not about taking contractual rights away from our employees. It's about stabilizing our system," Mr. Bell said.
Mr. Bell is in Washington speaking at a conference of the Fire and Emergency Manufacturers and Services Association and will not be here for the meeting of the ex-mayors. He said the organization is paying for his travel expenses.
Also yesterday, a bus tour sponsored by We Are Ohio, the lead organization opposing Issue 2, stopped in Toledo, where they were met by a handful of counter-protesters. Speakers for the People's Road Trip set up on a street near the Lucas County Board of Elections' early vote center on Washington Street near downtown. They urged people to take the opportunity to vote early.
Doug Stern, a Cincinnati firefighter, said Senate Bill 5 is a threat to public safety if firefighters and other public workers can't bargain for staffing levels.
"Firefighters know their job. They know what's safe and what's not," said Mr. Stern, 37, who appeared in a TV commercial advocating a no vote on Issue 2. He said the bill will reopen the door in Ohio to cronyism and nepotism in the workplace.
While he spoke, about half a dozen supporters of S.B. 5 organized by the Lucas County Republican Party waved signs such as "It's Our $" and "Yes On Issue 2."
Mr. Stern and one of the GOP protesters, John Marshall, a candidate for Sylvania Township trustee, ended up in a discussion about Issue 2, though neither changed the other one's opinion.
Mr. Marshall, 58, said that public unions have been unwilling to negotiate during the tough times for state and local governments.
"When there's tough times you gotta give back," Mr. Marshall said.
Mr. Stern said it's not true that unions have been unwilling to negotiate. He said he and his fellow firefighters pay 20 percent of their health insurance in Cincinnati and haven't had a pay raise in two years.
Contact Tom Troy at email@example.com or 419-724-6058.