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Published: Wednesday, 10/19/2011

S.B. 5 debate rages on statewide

Union study cites $1B in concessions; foes note better pay, benefits

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS -- Public employees have given back more than $1 billion in wage, health-care, furlough days, and other contract concessions to governments over the last four years, according to a union study released Tuesday.

"This report shows that we've been willing to make those economic reforms all across this state," Jay McDonald, president of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, said. "[Senate Bill 5] turns collective bargaining into a system of haves and have-nots, and hardworking police officers, firefighters, and corrections officers across this state are going to be jettisoned into the ranks of the have-nots."

He said the "Shared Sacrifices" report, which looked back to 2008, shows the concessions have not been forced by the threat of Senate Bill 5.

"The state workers took a $350 million concession package under the Strickland administration, well before anybody thought about Senate Bill 5," Mr. McDonald said.

But a recent study, cited by Building a Better Ohio, the mostly business and GOP-backed committee seeking to keep Senate Bill 5, noted that government employees get 43 percent better pay, benefits, and job security on average than anyone in the private sector.

The Ohio Business Roundtable funded that study.

Voters are casting absentee and early ballots for the Nov. 8 election. The latest in a series of public debates on the law will be held Oct. 25 and is expected to be aired by Ohio's NBC affiliates from 7 to 9 p.m.

The Shared Sacrifices study showed that 65 percent of contracts negotiated last year included at least one year of pay freezes, most of them involving teacher unions.

On average, county and state workers pay at least 15 percent of their health-care premiums, the minimum threshold that would be set for all workers under Senate Bill 5, the study said.

"If concessions alone were enough to fix the problem, we wouldn't be having this debate," said Connie Wehrkamp, spokesman for the pro-Senate Bill 5 group, Building a Better Ohio.

"We recognize that some government workers have agreed to modest concessions from time to time, but they represent a fraction of the savings that could be generated by the reasonable reforms of Issue 2,'' Ms. Wehrkamp said.

"In fact, some estimates indicate that Issue 2 would generate more than four times the savings claimed to be achieved in this union-backed report," Ms. Wehrkamp said.

Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, a Democrat who will take part in a We Are Ohio press conference today in Toledo to discuss the report, said her office is proof that elected officials can negotiate and achieve concessions from employees under Ohio's existing collective bargaining law.

Between contract negotiations and by invoking management rights, Ms. Lopez said she's been able to use a three-strikes policy to terminate workers who failed to do their jobs; crack down on sick, vacation, and family leave abuse; reduce tardiness, and improve productivity.

Ms. Lopez said a proposed contract she submitted Tuesday to the county commissioners involving the United Auto Workers local representing some of her employees would establish what she believes is the first merit-pay system for employees in the county.

Senate Bill 5 calls for eliminating automatic pay hikes in favor of performance pay.

"In 2012, there will be no raises at all," Ms. Lopez said. "There will be two [semi-annual] evaluations based on merit. Sick time, attendance, tardiness, customer service to taxpayers, [and] performance and productivity rates will be considered. In 2013, subject to budgetary constraints, merit raises will be granted to individuals or to some, not at all."

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



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