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Police, firefighters outraged

By Doug Published: April 1, 2011
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, sitting, signs Senate Bill 5 into law as members of the Ohio Senate and Ohio House of Representatives look on Thursday, March 31, 2011, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio's governor on Thursday signed into law a limit on the collective bargaining rights of 350,000 public workers, defying Democrats and other opponents of the measure who have promised to push for repeal. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Local safety workers to join effort to repeal union law signed by Kasich

Published on Friday, Apr 01, 2011

From staff and wire reports

Unlike Wisconsin's high-profile effort to limit collective bargaining rights for public workers, Ohio's new law includes police officers and firefighters who say it threatens their safety and the safety of the people they protect.

Opponents have vowed to put the issue on the November ballot, giving voters a chance to strike down the law.

''Senate Bill 5 is clearly an attack on organized labor,'' said Doug Quiner, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 139, which represents sheriff's deputies in Summit County. ''It's about attacking the unions, and they have turned it into a partisan vendetta.''

He called it ''ludicrous, totally ludicrous'' that contract stalemates no longer will go before impartial arbitrators. He added that basing raises on performance which hasn't been defined rather than through collective bargaining would lead to ''favoritism, cronyism and nepotism.''

''This bill wasn't about saving money for the state of Ohio,'' Quiner said. ''It had nothing to do with saving money for the state of Ohio. The fact that it was portrayed that way was a lie. Contrary to popular opinion, we're not getting rich off the public dime.''

Dan Elbert, a 24-year-old firefighter with the Richfield Fire Department, agreed that public unions were blamed for crippling the state financially and ''that's entirely false.''

He urged people to examine the bill
carefully for themselves instead of listening to rhetoric on either side.

''The public, in general, is very misinformed,'' Elbert said.

Both he and Quiner said they plan to be part of the effort to put the issue on the ballot for state voters to decide.

''We will do whatever we have to to get signatures to get this travesty repealed,'' Quiner said.

The firefighters union in Cleveland plans to hit the streets and help gather signatures. Opponents of the law have 90 days to gather more than 230,000 valid signatures to get it on the fall ballot.

Patrolman Michael Cox, a 15-year veteran of Cleveland's police force, said Ohio overlooked the inherent risks of police and firefighting work when lawmakers included them in the bill, which passed the legislature on Wednesday and was signed into law by Republican Gov. John Kasich on Thursday.

''We don't run from the house fire; we don't run from the gunshot,'' Cox said. ''We're the guys that got to say, 'OK, we're going to go fix this problem real fast.' ''

Under the Ohio plan, police and firefighters won't be able to bargain with cities over the number of people required to be on duty. That means they can't negotiate the number of staff in fire trucks or police cars.

Supporters of the bargaining limits say decisions on how to equip police and fire departments should be in the hands of city officials, not union members.

''Shouldn't it be the employer who decides what's safe and what's not safe?'' said state Rep. Joseph Uecker, who was a police officer in the Cincinnati area for 15 years. ''Don't you think they are the ones who should decide whether they should have one or two or three people in a car? That's what we call management rights.''

State lawmakers did make last-minute changes to the measure in the House that allow police and fire officials to bargain for vests, shields and other safety gear.

Kasich has said his $55.5 billion, two-year state budget counts on unspecified savings from lifting union protections to fill an $8 billion hole.

State Rep. Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, who voted in favor of the bill, said it was one of the most contentious issues he's ever seen in his 30 years as a state representative and senator.

''This is an issue that's fairly easy to demagogue on both sides,'' he said. For example, he said, Republicans were incorrectly accused of trying to hurt the middle class.

''There were a lot of distortions about what's going on here in this legislation,'' Amstutz said. ''What we're attempting to do is restore some balance'' to the relationship between employer and employees.

He said he was pleased that an amendment that he proposed creating a state commission to promote best practices in employer-employee relationships was included in the bill.

State Rep. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, who also supported the legislation, said in a written release that it delivers on the principle of ''fiscal responsibility.''

''People have been taxed enough when times are tough and families are tightening their belts,'' she said. ''It's time that we tighten our belts and give local municipalities and school districts the tools to tighten theirs.''

Not all local representatives supported the bill.

''This is a slap in the face to every working man and woman,'' said State Rep. Zack Milkovich, D-Akron, who is new to the legislature. ''Their argument is so bogus.''

Milkovich said he plans to help with the signature-gathering effort for a referendum to repeal the bill. He plans to ride his bicycle around the district, knocking on doors, as he did during his campaign.

''We knew this was going to go through,'' he said, noting the GOP majority in both chambers. ''The people will have the final say.''

Milkovich will have a meeting to discuss the legislation and repeal effort at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Firestone Park branch library, 1486 Aster Ave., Akron.

State Sen. Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, who also voted against the legislation and has held public office for 35 years, said he was disturbed by how quickly this expansive legislation moved through the process. He was a young legislator in the early 1980s when collective bargaining was first adopted after several years of debate.

''The problem, in this round of consideration, is they tried to do in little more than eight weeks what took eight years to do,'' he said.

Sawyer said the bill was passed out of a House committee, approved by the House, went back to the Senate and then on to the governor within days.

''That is rapid fire,'' he said. ''It's hard to consider that a legislative process.''

Sawyer thinks the speed of the bill's passage ''heightened tensions and made it more difficult to have the thoughtful consideration that something of this consequence deserved.''

Sawyer said the fight isn't over and predicted both litigation and a referendum. He said the ballot issue will be ''as hard-fought as any public referendum as has been seen in Ohio in many years.''

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