COLUMBUS — Ohio’s largest state employee union reached a tentative deal with state officials on Wednesday to extend its current contract until 2015, the first bargaining agreement following the defeat of the state’s contentious union law.
Leaders in the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association credited last week’s voter repeal of the collective bargaining restrictions with allowing them to better negotiate their contract. The deal was struck more than three months before the current contract is scheduled to expire, an occurrence the union’s president called unprecedented.
“Not only did we win at the ballot box, now we’ve won at the bargaining table,” Kathy Stewart, the association’s secretary-treasurer, said in a statement.
More than 61 percent of voters rejected the measure, which limited the collective bargaining rights of Ohio’s more than 350,000 teachers, firefighters, state employees and other public workers. Among other provisions, public employees would have been required to pay at least 15 percent of their health insurance.
The state employees union represents about 34,000 workers whose jobs range from administrative to security positions.
The union’s current contract already required employees to contribute 15 percent toward their health care, but the union says the law’s repeal allowed labor leaders to discuss their health care benefits at the negotiating table.
“We have negotiated what we believe to be a fair and reasonable agreement,” said Molly O’Reilly, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Administrative Services. She said additional details about the deal would be available later.
The tentative agreement between the union and state was reached in 48 hours, the group’s president Christopher Mabe said in an interview.
The deal retains many current contract provisions between the union and the state, but it doesn’t include furlough days or personal leave that were in the current agreement that is set to expire at the end of February.
Union members must still vote on the agreement, a vote that will likely come after Thanksgiving, said union spokeswoman Sally Meckling.
The union was the first of the state employees’ unions to negotiate their contract with Ohio officials since the collective bargaining law was tossed out, Meckling said.
Mabe said it was unprecedented for the union to agree to such an extension.
“But we came to the conclusion, you know, we’ve got something that really works here and it works well,” Mabe said. “And we didn’t want to get involved in any kind of battle. We wanted to get back on to the business of the state of Ohio and the citizens of the state of Ohio and keeping those interests in mind.”
State employees under the contract wouldn’t see a general wage increase, but certain automatic wage increases that are a part of current law would apply. The repealed collective bargaining law would have done away with those increases and based pay on performance.
Mabe said the union was mindful of Ohio’s budget constraints in not asking for a boost in wages.
“We understand the economic status of the state, we’re aware of it and we react to it,” Mabe said. “We understand that the taxpayers have needs also and we wanted to acknowledge those needs.”