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Published: Saturday, 9/3/2011

Bell’s support for SB 5 disheartens firefighters

Loss of minimum manning clause feared

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Dan Desmond, vice president of Toledo Firefighters Local 92, speaks in opposition to Senate Bill 5 at a news conference in the firefighters’ union hall that was held to show a new television commercial produced by We Are Ohio. Dan Desmond, vice president of Toledo Firefighters Local 92, speaks in opposition to Senate Bill 5 at a news conference in the firefighters’ union hall that was held to show a new television commercial produced by We Are Ohio.
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Toledo firefighters promoting the defeat of Issue 2 on Friday said they were disappointed in Mayor Mike Bell’s support for the new law, which would restrict public employees’ collective bargaining rights.

“I think he’s going to make it more difficult for the bargaining process to move forward with or without Issue 2 because he’s made such a strong stance,” said Jeff Koenigseker, a member of the executive board of Toledo Firefighters Local 92.

Ohioans will vote Nov. 8 on Issue 2, which is a referendum on the collective bargaining law commonly known as Senate Bill 5.

“I was disappointed in the mayor,” Local 92 President Wayne Hartford said. “...I mean, he was on this job for 20-plus years, and he knows how it works and he knows what kind of harm will come to it if we don’t get to sit down at the table and talk.”

Mayor Bell, a former Toledo firefighter, fire chief, and state fire marshal, said earlier this week that he supports the law limiting bargaining rights because his financially strapped city needs that tool to balance its budget.

His spokesman, Jen Sorgenfrei, said Friday the mayor is trying to grapple with the city’s difficult fiscal situation and has not been able to get the cuts he needs by negotiating with the unions.

“Any mayor would love to govern in a healthy economy. That’s not his reality,” Ms. Sorgenfrei said. “He is left with limited options to resolve the situation. His ultimate duty is not to labor organizations; his duty is to the citizens of Toledo. What we’ve requested from our union is no more harsh than what ordinary Toledo citizens have had to go through over the past five years.”

Mr. Hartford, who has been on the fire department for 27 years, said he knows the mayor has the city and its taxpayers in mind.

“I understand his job,” he said. “I just wish that he would understand our part of it too, so that we can sit down and meet in the middle.”

After showing a new television ad called We Are One, sponsored by We Are Ohio, a coalition composed of mostly labor and Democratic organizations, Dan Desmond, vice president of Local 92, called Senate Bill 5 an “unfair and unsafe attack on the middle class.”

“We’re firefighters,” Mr. Desmond said. “We protect families. We protect property. We protect lives, and I don’t know how anyone can benefit from making it illegal for us to ensure the safety of firefighters and citizens of Ohio.”

Firefighters say they fear that if the law is not repealed, it will result in the loss of Toledo’s minimum manning clause, which requires 103 firefighters to be on duty at all times. That, they said, would endanger firefighters and result in longer response times for residents.

“If somebody has a cardiac event, they need somebody there within two or three minutes to have a positive outcome,” Firefighter Dan O’Leary said. “The longer it takes, the less positive that outcome can be. It’s a serious matter.”

Proponents of Issue 2 said firefighters are making misleading claims about the law’s potential impact.

“The biggest threat to public safety right now are the layoffs of our good police officers and firefighters,” said Jason Mauk, spokesman for Building a Better Ohio, a largely Republican and business-backed organization defending Senate Bill 5.

“Today, local communities are struggling to balance their budgets, and hard-working safety personnel are being laid off across the state,” he said. “Issue 2 would provide some reasonable reforms and give local officials more tools to get costs under control and keep more of these public servants on the job.”

Among its numerous provisions, Senate Bill 5 prohibits public-employee strikes, reduces the subjects for discussion at the bargaining table, requires workers to pay at least 15 percent of their health-care premiums, and prohibits local governments from picking up any of an employee’s share of his pension contributions. The law also eliminates the ability of workplace unions to automatically deduct “fair-share” fees in lieu of dues from the paychecks of employees who refuse to join.

Mr. Hartford said collective bargaining enables firefighters to sit down with the city and work through a process of give and take.

“It’s the greatest job in the world, and we have fought for what we have at the bargaining table,” he said. “Collective bargaining has worked for 30-plus years, and we have gotten the things we have through negotiations, and we have given up a lot of things to get where we’re at.”

Firefighters gave up a raise in exchange for the city picking up pension contributions, he said. Under Senate Bill 5, the city no longer could do that.

“Our biggest thing is to be able to sit down with the city and negotiate things,” Mr. Hartford said. “It’s a give-and-take world. The mayor and his staff would have an agenda, and we have an agenda, and if we can happily meet in the middle, we don’t have a problem. SB5 would completely take that away from us.”

The We Are One advertisement featuring firefighters is airing statewide through Sept. 10, a spokesman said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.



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