Opponents of Issue 2 Monday focused on their claims that the proposed new collective bargaining law will reduce safety for the public if nurses, police, and firefighters are barred from negotiating over staffing levels, as the law requires.
And supporters of the law, including Mayor Mike Bell, disagreed that the proposed law would undermine public or medical safety.
Tom Kosek, a registered nurse at the University of Toledo Medical Center, formerly the Medical College of Ohio, and president of a nurses' union, said senior citizens will be the largest group affected by the law.
Mr. Kosek said that because the law would bar the union from negotiating for a limitation on the length of shift a nurse can work, a nurse could be made to work 20 hours straight.
"There is nothing in the legislation that prevents it," Mr. Kosek said. The law also would prohibit a union from negotiating for its members to obtain training, which will undermine competency, he said.
A small group of senior citizens, one from Sylvania Township, one from Swanton, and one from Columbus, was present to make statements as well. The event, sponsored by the anti-Issue 2 group We Are Ohio, was held outside the entrance to the Chester Zablocki Senior Center on Lagrange Street.
Dan Desmond, vice president of Toledo Firefighters Local 92, said the loss of the minimum manning level of 103 firefighters per shift will be detrimental to senior citizens if they call for fire or paramedic service and are put on hold because of staffing levels.
"If you call 911 for a firefighter or paramedic and there's not going to be enough of us to go around, you just might be put on hold, and I don't think anybody wants that," said Mr. Desmond. He said the minimum level of 103 went into effect when the city had even fewer runs per year than it has now.
He said that without the union being able to negotiate levels, the city might reduce staffing to below what is safe when the competition for funding grows. He said the mayor has referred to a "fine line between safety and efficiency" but said that efficiency might win out over safety if the city is required to spend money for other purposes and is no longer required by the contract to maintain a certain level of firefighters and paramedics on duty.
Mayor Bell said Monday that he supports the 103 minimum staffing -- if the firefighters do. He said there have been high levels of firefighters calling in sick, requiring the city to fill their positions by paying other firefighters overtime, a practice he said taxpayers can't afford.
"My position is that if they come to work, I will support 103. If they don't come to work, I have to support whatever we can afford to pay," Mr. Bell said, adding that his support of Issue 2 is based on its budget aspects -- the requirements that employees pay their pension and at least 15 percent of their health insurance costs -- rather than to do away with allowing unions to negotiate for staffing rights.
And he said if he has to lay off firefighters, that would be more detrimental to safety than falling below the minimum staffing level.
"If we have to lay off 75 police officers, where is the safety in that? As I've said before I'm trying to protect jobs, not lose them," said Mayor Bell, who has endorsed Issue 2.
Former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner in 2009 laid off 75 police officers because of a budget deficit.
The referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot would uphold Senate Bill 5, if passed. It curtails many of the collective bargaining rights public employee unions now have in state law.
Jason Mauk, spokesman for the pro-Issue 2 group Building a Better Ohio, said fewer than 12 percent of public employee contracts in the state have minimum staffing provisions.
"This is an issue that probably tested well in some focus groups, but it has no real basis in fact when you look at the data," Mr. Mauk said.
Contact Tom Troy at email@example.com or 419-724-6058.