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Published: Tuesday, 3/29/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Organized labor set for final showdown

Ohio House to vote on bargaining bill

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

Gov. John Kasich Gov. John Kasich
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
COLUMBUS — Labor is preparing for a final showdown with lawmakers this week as votes loom for a bill restricting the collecting-bargaining power of some 350,000 teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public employees.

Statehouse rallies are set for Tuesday when a House committee is expected to make final changes to Senate Bill 5 and will continue into the week as the full House prepares to vote as early as Wednesday.

Among its many provisions, Senate Bill 5 would ban strikes by all public employees, limit talks to wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment, and require workers to pay at least 15 percent of their health insurance premiums.

The bill would also eliminate binding arbitration, the current process of letting an independent, third party resolve contract disputes for police, firefighters, and other public safety employees who are prohibited from striking under current law.

It replaces that process with a dispute-resolution procedure for all public employees that would involve mediation, fact finding, and finally a public hearing and vote by the city ­council, school board, or other local government body to pick one side's entire final best offer over the other.

Despite the rallies, the ranking member of the House Commerce and Labor Committee made it clear Monday that Democrats have moved into voter-referendum mode and aren't planning a serious attempt to offer their own amendments to improve the bill.

"We're looking at a referendum," said Rep. Kenny Yuko (D., Richmond Heights). "I think we all know that."

Rep. Nicki Antonio (D., Lakewood), a committee member, said the bill is unfixable.

"It sounds like it's going to move very fast and furious with very little debate," she said.

Even if Gov. John Kasich signs the bill into law next week as expected, a successful petition drive would put it on hold at least until voters have had a chance to weigh in at the ballot in November.

In the past, the closest thing Ohio has to a statewide Tea Party organization has mounted counter rallies but does not plan to do so again this week. Chris Littleton, president of the Ohio Liberty Council, voiced support for the bill.

"It comes down to the ability to fix the problem, the problem being the public sector being so out of line with regard to economic reality and financial solvency and the construct of collective bargaining accomplishing all that on the public side," he said.

He said he's not sure how the Tea Party might react to the changes expected to be made for law enforcement employees.

"It depends on what it is," he said. "We're in complete agreement that there's a world of difference between teachers and police and firefighters."

Meanwhile, some within the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association hope to use the power of their own investment funds to sway corporate opinion.

Dan Wagner, union local president, said a movement began locally that he hopes will spread statewide as union members shift their deferred compensation investments within a fund administered by Nationwide Insurance.

Mr. Wagner said the reason is that the Columbus-based company contributed to Mr. Kasich's campaign and has not denounced Senate Bill 5.

"People are making a lot of movements in regard to those who've backed Kasich and his policies," Mr. Wagner said. "Nationwide was identified through contribution records. Our people are moving away from Nationwide. If they're not with us, then they're against us.

"We make voluntary investments from our paychecks, and we're not happy that Nationwide has not sent a letter to the governor stating they disagree with what he's doing," he said.

Columbus-based Nationwide administers about $4 billion in police deferred compensation funds statewide, but individual police officers have the ability to transfer their own money within the larger fund.

Mr. Wagner said he transferred his money out of the Stable Value Fund, one of the options within the deferred compensation investment portfolio, to another option from which Nationwide does not benefit financially.

Nationwide is one of several managers of the Stable Value Fund.

He said others are doing the same or diverting their deferred compensation money into 401(K) retirement plans not administered by Nationwide.

Nationwide, however, said it has not seen a statewide movement to transfer funds, although it is aware of the Toledo union's complaint.

"We've gotten a call from the Toledo folks, but we've seen no major movement," said Nationwide spokesman Eric Hargrove. "That's really because we supported both candidates with comparable support through our [political action committee]. We've got a history of bipartisan political support that continued through this election."

The insurance-investment firm has no intention of taking a position on Senate Bill 5.

"Fundamentally, we don't believe we should interfere in employee-employer relations beyond our own company," Mr. Hargrove said.

The House committee's changes Tuesday are expected to largely target law enforcement and emergency personnel. The committee intends to make it clear that they can negotiate over equipment, training, and other safety issues.

It also plans to take the final contract decision out of the hands of the local government, as the Senate suggested, and instead give it to another third party, such as the courts or to voters via a ballot referendum.

Mr. Kasich has been adamant against restoring final binding arbitration to the bill, arguing that that process puts the final decision in the hands of an unelected third party unanswerable to the taxpayers who will have to foot the bill.

While most of these changes are favorable to police and firefighters, their unions are not expected to drop their opposition to the bill.

"It's clear [Republicans] think these amendments will make the bill palatable, but we will take it to a referendum and defeat it," Mr. Wagner said. "The law has worked all these years with both sides sitting down and working to a middle ground. [Lawmakers] are trying to force their will, and they're not willing to change."

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



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