John Russo figures the advent of the Kasich Administration is a "teachable moment" in Ohio history.
Gov.-Elect John Kasich has made it clear he wants to do away with binding arbitration for police and fire unions, get rid of the state's prevailing wage laws, and, as much as possible, dismantle the state's 1983 collective bargaining law that gives public employees the right to unionize.
Mr. Russo, coordinator of the labor studies program and co-director of the Center for Working Class Studies at Youngstown State University, said Ohioans need to step back and look at how those laws protect working families and just what impact they have on government's bottom line.
"After all, the attack is on the people that take care of your kids, who protect you from crime, who put out your fires, who plow your roads," he said. "... I think it's a real teaching moment to the public to say, 'Why are they targeting these people really engaged in public service?'"
Mr. Russo made the comments Thursday during a conference call with reporters and two representatives of the left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio, a Cleveland-based research organization that looks at the effects of economic issues on working families.
Wendy Patton, senior associate at Policy Matters Ohio, said the economic health of a state does not ride on whether that state permits public employees to unionize nor on whether it has prevailing wage laws, which require construction contracts on public projects to pay the going rate for private sector workers in that community.
"This is not the driving factor in states' fortunes or misfortunes," Ms. Patton said. "A focus in that direction is not a fruitful focus for the energy of our leadership, and this is based on what we see in other states."
Among the states that forbid collective bargaining for state workers, she said, Arizona, North Carolina, and Nevada have state budget deficits of more than 30 percent going into the new year, while some states that allow it, such as Montana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and South Dakota, have budget deficits of less than 10 percent.
"The right of public workers to bargain collectively is not the cause of the budget shortfalls, and eliminating that right to collective bargaining has not fixed the problem in states that have tried it," she said.
Ms. Patton said union workers in Ohio in general have been "less battered" by falling median wages.
"Unions increase compensation of the lowest-paid workers, reduce disparities between top and bottom earners, reduce racial and gender disparities in compensation, and help ensure that workers are better trained and more productive," she said.
While more and more private-sector employee unions, including the United Auto Workers, have accepted concessions in recent contracts, Joyce Goldstein, a labor attorney and board member of Policy Matters Ohio, said that has occurred through negotiations, not by dismantling federal labor laws.
"Nobody's changed the fundamental labor law to get to those, but what we're seeing in the public sector is politicians trotting out 4117 -- Ohio's collective bargaining law -- and saying we need to change the law, we need to repeal the law, we need to restructure how collective bargaining is done at all, if at all," she said. "I think that's what's really pernicious and not borne out by what's happening in the private sector."
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