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Published: Monday, 3/7/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Thousands await word of Ohio job cuts

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

Gov. John Kasich Gov. John Kasich
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
COLUMBUS — As president of the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters, Mark Sanders has been on the front line of organized labor's battle to kill a bill restricting the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

If Senate Bill 5 becomes law, Mr. Sanders will lose the right to be represented by the union he now leads.

"I'm a fire lieutenant in Cincinnati,'' Mr. Sanders said. "This bill prohibits me from collective bargaining.''

While changes made by the Senate last week may have restored some endangered collective bargaining rights to state government employees, they carved out groups of unionized firefighters, police officers, and university professors who would be reclassified as management and barred from the negotiating table.

The issue is again expected to draw a crowd Tuesday as House hearings on the bill coincide with Gov. John Kasich's first State of the State Address. Organized labor protesters are again planning to fill the Statehouse and its grounds while the conservative Tea Party is expected to show up to voice support for both Mr. Kasich and the bill.

Details of the governor's speech Tuesday have not leaked out, but are anticipated by thousands of state workers, school and university officials, and local government leaders who expect Mr. Kasich to push for massive state spending cuts to deal with a projected $8 billion Ohio deficit in the next two-year budget.

Mr. Kasich may use a broad-brush approach in his speech Tuesday, but he'll have to get specific by March 15, the deadline for his budget to reach the state legislature.

Meanwhile, the International Association of Firefighters is preparing to launch a TV and newspaper ad campaign in Ohio later this week as part of a strategy that also targets similar battles in states like Wisconsin and Florida.

Senate Bill 5 would:

  • Expressly prohibit the State Employment Relations Board from certificating a collective bargaining unit that includes firefighters ranked lieutenant or higher.
  • Changes the definition of "supervisor'' in the bill that makes it appear more police officers ranked sergeant and higher would be moved into the exempt category.
  • Says that if faculty members at public universities exercise managerial authority, they are considered managers who are exempt from collective bargaining.

By Mr. Sanders' estimate, about a third of Ohio's roughly 12,000 professional firefighters would not be allowed to be part of a union under the bill. The measure would remove 32 Toledo captains and 83 lieutenants from the rank-and-file firefighters' union. There are also 18 battalion chiefs and three deputy chiefs who have their own bargaining unit.

"A lieutenant basically supervises one company, so they're very low-level management,'' said Dan Desmond, vice president of Toledo Firefighters Local 92. "They don't have the ability to hire. They don't have the ability to fire. They don't even have the ability to reprimand. ... Yes, technically they are supervisors, but they are very first-level supervisors.''

The impact on police officers is less clear cut. According to an analysis of the bill by the Ohio Legislative Services Commission, Senate Bill 5 removes a limitation on the definition of "supervisor'' that has the potential of reclassifying some higher-ranking police officers as management.

"In theory, you can exclude all sergeants and above just by saying they are responsibly directing somebody,'' said Paul Cox, chief counsel for the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police. Ohio FOP President Jay MacDonald said such decisions are likely to come down to "case-by-case litigation.''

"Nationally, there have been arguments ad nauseum on what constitutes police supervisors,'' said Rep. Matt Szollosi (D., Oregon), the number-two Democrat in the Republican-controlled House. "If what the bill tries to accomplish is a bright line between supervisory staff and rank-and-file employees, it doesn't work out that delineation.''

State Sen. Shannon Jones (R., Springboro), the bill's sponsor, pointed to the recent testimony of Toledo Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat. He told the Senate committee that fashioned the bill that the city is required to lay off 75 patrol officers before touching a sergeant, lieutenant, or captain, who had their own bargaining unit.

"You have management negotiating against its own patrol officers in that instance,'' Ms. Jones said. "Two collective bargaining agreements are in conflict or are competing with one another, and neither one of them is consistent with the goal of public employers attempting to keep as many people on the job as possible.''

But Mr. Herwat said Monday that he was not advocating that the committee do away with the Toledo Police Command Officers Association, which represents 135 sergeants, lieutenants, and captains.

"There's an issue of fairness,'' Mr. Herwat said. "You could take a lieutenant with 20 years on the force, who suddenly is not represented by a bargaining unit, and kick a good officer out on the street, but Senate Bill 5 provides some flexibility.

"You can take management rights to the extreme,'' he said. "You could take a police officer and say on Mondays you'll work days, on Tuesday's you'll work afternoons, and Thursdays you'll work nights. That's not right or fair either. The bill allows you to recognize those factors and take them into consideration.''

He said the city will wait until it sees the final definition of "supervisor'' in the bill before it takes a position on whether it would seek to remove sergeants, lieutenants, and captains from the bargaining table.
Ms. Jones said the bill defines a supervisor as having the ability, among other things, to hire, fire, and discipline.

Another paragraph added to the bill in the Senate last week has prompted university professor unions across the state to declare that they are in the sights of the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Mr. Kasich.

The paragraph would revoke collective bargaining rights for any faculty member who, when acting individually or through a faculty senate, participates in personnel, curriculum, admissions, and other management decisions of a public institution of higher learning. The Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors estimates that 1 percent of its roughly 4,500 members statewide participate in an advisory faculty senate at any given time.

"Either you're going to do things directly involved with governance of an institution, which is management, or you are going to focus on your academic duties,'' Ms. Jones said. "In either case, it's the employee's choice.''

The union, which has 770 members at the University of Toledo, suspects the move is the first step toward the creation of "charter universities,'' a concept embraced by Jim Petro, Ohio's former attorney general and Mr. Kasich's new chancellor of higher education.

"The way it is currently worded is essentially university professors must choose to participate in a sham of a collective bargaining process or continue to have a say in the handbook policies, curriculum, and other subject matters as part of the faculty senate,'' said Sara Kaminski, the union's executive director.

"They would not be allowed to do both,'' she said. "It would force them to make a very difficult decision.''

She stressed that the advisory senate is a tool to provide input to the administration, but it does not have decision-making authority.

Mr. Kasich is expected to touch on the concept of charter universities in either his State of the State Address Tuesday or in his first two-year budget proposal to be unveiled to lawmakers on March 15.

A variation on K-12 charter schools, the idea is that universities would be granted more autonomy from state regulation in anticipation of the schools getting less state aid, a given over the next two years anyway because of the state's precarious financial position.

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



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