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Published: Monday, 10/31/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Senate Bill 5's fans, foes duel over fine print

Law encompasses 300 pages

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Fans of Ohio’s new law restricting the collective-bargaining power of 350,000 public employees tout the need to give struggling local governments tools to rein in the costs of contracts they say taxpayers no longer can afford.

But foes of Senate Bill 5 contend the real impetus of the law is not health-care, pension, sick time, vacation, or other worker benefits, but rather provisions tucked into the 300-plus pages that directly go after a union’s pocketbook, membership, and political activity.

In addition to numerous other provisions affecting benefits and negotiations, Senate Bill 5 would:

  • Prohibit automatic deduction of “fair-share’’ fees, in lieu of dues, from employees who refuse to join the workplace union.
  • Make it easier for employees unhappy with the union to petition for decertification by reducing from 50 percent to 30 percent the share of the workplace needed to ask for a vote. It still would take a majority vote to decertify.
  • Extend from 21 days to 30 the time during which an employee can object to the certification of a bargaining unit.
  • Prohibit payroll deductions for contributions to a union’s political action committee unless the employee first provides written permission.
  • Reduce union membership by including some higher-ranking police officers and firefighters and college and university professors who serve on faculty senates under the definitions of “supervisor’’ who could not be part of a bargaining unit.

The voter referendum on Senate Bill 5 appears on the Nov. 8 ballot as Issue 2. A “yes’’ vote would keep the law and a “no’’ vote would reject it.

The conservative Tea Party wing of the Ohio Republican Party has made it clear that the language dealing with fair-share fees was its top priority.

“From a liberty group whose whole focus is constitutionality, how can forced unionization fit?’’ asked Tom Zawistowski, president of the Ohio Liberty Council and vice president of the Portage County Tea Party. “We are fundamentally against it. It starts there for us.’’

The internal union operations language was missing from Senate Bill 5 when it emerged from the Senate solely with Republican votes.

“We were confused,’’ Mr. Zawistowski said. “If you’re going to do this, you have to fundamentally restructure it. This isn’t a tweak. This is a major re-looking at our cost of government and the way our government is run fundamentally. That’s what’s really needed in Ohio.’’

“It sounds like union-busting to me,’’ said Dan Desmond, vice president of Toledo Firefighters Local 92. “They’ve dressed it up with 305 pages so they can sneak something through, so they can wave the flag and say this is just about the state budget.’’

Toledo Mayor Mike Bell is the only mayor of a major Ohio city to endorse Issue 2 and has appeared in an ad for the pro-Issue 2 group, Building a Better Ohio. He’s a former Toledo firefighter, fire chief, and state fire marshal and was elected to the mayor’s job as an independent.

Controlling costs

“Mayor Bell supports Senate Bill 5 because of the provisions it contains regarding our ability to control costs,’’ Toledo Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said. “At negotiations with our largest union [AFSCME Local 7], those internal workings [of unions] were of no concern to us.’’

Public records obtained by The Blade show it was Gov. John Kasich’s office that submitted the proposed union-operation language that was eventually added to Senate Bill 5 in the House.

In response to an email from state Rep. Kristina Roegner (R., Hudson) urging the addition of PAC contribution and fair-share fee language to the state budget, Mr. Kasich’s legislative liaison, Matt Carle, responded, “I don’t think you’ll have to wait for the budget to see these changes made to the state’s collective bargaining. We’ve proposed that they include them in S.B. 5. I’d also like to include them in the budget, but I’ll let you know how that conversation goes.’’

“That conversation’’ resulted in these amendments to Senate Bill 5, but not to the $55.8 billion, two-year budget that passed about two months later.

“We support those provisions. We signed the bill,’’ Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said. “The law helps state employees have more control over their unions and their own money. The main thrust of Senate Bill 5 was giving tools to local governments to control costs and, secondly, to bring some equity with the private sector. But third, it gives employees more control over their unions and money.’’

As for the opponents’ argument that these provisions are designed to undermine the political power of both the unions and the Democratic Party that they traditionally support, Mr. Nichols asked, “Do they then say that current state law is providing them a mechanism for them to increase their political power?’’

Attached to Ms. Roegner’s email to Mr. Carle and quoted verbatim was an Americans for Prosperity email that state director Rebecca Heimlich had sent to supporters urging them to call their representatives to support the union language. Americans for Prosperity is a conservative, pro-business, Washington-based, nonprofit organization founded with the support of brothers David and Charles Koch of Koch Industries.

Issue of union dues

Americans for Prosperity has been holding town-hall meetings across the state to drum up support for Senate Bill 5, including northwest Ohio events in Maumee and Tiffin.

Senate Bill 5 was the proper venue to deal with these issues, according to Ms. Heimlich.

“Government in Ohio should not be in the business of collecting union dues,’’ she said. “That costs money. If unions want to collect it, they can do it themselves. …’’

She also applauded the amendment that requires union members to sign off on the collection of money for union political activity.

“This is very important to union members’ concerns about their money being used for political purposes,’’ Ms. Heimlich said.

“The wife of Rep. [Andrew] Thompson (R., Marietta), Jade Thompson, found out that her union dues were used to attack her husband when he was running for state representative. She was very vocal about that. People should not be required to pay money that goes to support policies they don’t agree with.’’

Ms. Thompson is a public schoolteacher.

‘Perfect sense’

“That makes perfect sense,’’ said Ms. Roegner, who sent the email to Mr. Carle. “This is money they’ve earned. Wouldn’t you want to give your money to issues and candidates and PACs that you support? Maybe an employee will say, ‘I agree 100 percent. Take my dues, God bless you, and go with it.’ But if I’m pro-life and this union tends to support candidates who are pro-choice, then I have a problem.’’

Rep. Matt Szollosi (D., Oregon), an attorney specializing in labor law, said these provisions were one of the underlying motivations of a bill that is being promoted as a cost-cutting tool.

“To argue that these are reasonable reforms that are necessary to restore balance to the collective bargaining process is a joke,’’ Mr. Szollosi said.

“... By eliminating the fair-share provision and rewarding those who withdraw from union membership with all the rights, privileges, and benefits of union membership without contributing one penny to the administration of the agreement just encourages people to withdraw from union membership.’’

Ohio law does not force workers to join their workplace union, but it does allow for collection of fair-share fees from those workers to help cover a union’s operating costs. The argument is that those workers still benefit from the contracts negotiated by the union.

The language that redefines “supervisor’’ to include higher-ranking police officers and firefighters and some college and university professors would appear to endanger the existence of the Toledo Police Command Officers’ Association as well as some members of the rank-and-file Toledo Firefighters Local 92. Both bargaining units predate passage of Ohio’s original collective bargaining law in 1983.

State action needed

Under Senate Bill 5, the State Employment Relations Board would refuse to certify any union with such membership. It also would take SERB action to decertify.

While Mr. Herwat said the law is unclear as to how this would shake out under Senate Bill 5, don’t expect the city of Toledo to ask SERB to decertify the police command union or challenge the membership of some firefighters.

“We have sent notices to bargain with all four public safety units, including the command units,’’ he said.

“We have expressed a willingness to bargain. If Senate Bill 5 remains law, we will continue to bargain with those units.’’

The three-year public safety contracts expire Dec. 31.

“We expect and want to sit down with the city on a successor contract for all current members of Local 92, including those ranks,’’ said Donato Iorio, attorney for Toledo Firefighters Local 92. Issue 2, if upheld by voters, potentially could remove about 100 of the roughly 500 members of Local 92.

Mr. Iorio took issue with Mr. Herwat’s contention that the administration is not against collective bargaining.

“The truth is found in actions and is clearly exposed by his testimony when he appeared before the General Assembly and talked about Senate Bill 5, now Issue 2,’’ Mr. Iorio said.

“Actions speak louder than words. One of the provisions of proposed Issue 2 is to allow a request for decertification with 30 percent showing of interest. That clearly speaks to the political motivations underlying Issue 2, which is to bust unions.’’

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



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