Gov. John Kasich and his fellow Republicans in charge of the legislature had a good idea. They called for revisiting the state law permitting collective bargaining for public employees. Three decades on the books, the law merits updating, repairs to a system that tilts too far in the direction of organized labor, allowing for such absurdities as a mediator finding that a financially strapped Akron could afford a set of raises for police officers. Too often labor drives decision-making at the expense of officials elected by voters to manage public resources.
Unfortunately, the governor and his allies weren’t content with repair work. They used the moment to deal a hammer blow to their political adversaries, Democrats and organized labor, going after the way unions are structured and function, seeking to diminish their capacity to participate in the political process.
Ohioans don’t hear much about this pursuit from supporters of Senate Bill 5 and Issue 2 on the statewide ballot. They talk about the reasonable changes, for instance, the getting away from seniority in driving layoffs and the restrictions on accumulating paid sick time and vacations. All of this serves as cover, in part, for the partisan power play, Republicans asking voters to approve the sensible so they also can belt the other side.
Voters should reject the package. We recommend a “no” vote on Issue 2, the referendum on Senate Bill 5 on the Nov. 8 ballot.
What did Republicans include in the law to erode the clout of labor and thus Democrats?
The law bars employers from making payroll deductions for union political action committees without first receiving written permission from an employee. What’s so bad? For starters, the provision has nothing to do with providing tools for public officials to manage more effectively.
It won’t save money — unless the thinking is that anything hitting unions is worthy. The law contains so many other elements to reset the balance. Why go so heavily for the icing? Or throw a such cheap elbow?
Consider the provision eliminating “fair share,” the required payments to unions from workers who opt out of the bargaining unit. Again, this has nothing to do with tools or savings. Fair share long has reflected that all workers benefit from provisions of a contract. Want to erase it? Then, conduct a debate on the question. Don’t slip the idea into a larger bill, hoping it will attract little attention.
The same goes for making easier the process for decertifying a union. Senate Bill 5 lowers the threshold for triggering the effort from 50 percent of workers signing a petition to 30 percent. Again, no savings, more grabbing for a partisan opening.
There’s an old saw in negotiations about leaving on the table something for the other guy. It is done with the future in mind, knowing that for the good of the organization, or the state, both sides must come together. Republicans violated the ethic. It has been apparent in the ugly tone that has surfaced, many in the party almost demonizing public employees, especially teachers. They rarely acknowledge that the original law has offered a framework for resolving real problems.
There is an additional reason for opposing Issue 2: the way lawmakers hustled Senate Bill 5 through the legislature and into law.
To be sure, Democrats deserve harsh criticism for failing to propose alternatives. Republicans have left numerous questions in their wake, doubts in many quarters about eliminating wholly the right to strike and including pension provisions outside the context of needed, comprehensive reform of the public pension systems.
The law requires public workers to pay at least 15 percent of the premium for health insurance. What about the cost-savings achieved through higher deductibles and co-pays?
It can be said about almost any bill that it could have been much better. More, it often rates as comforting to argue that lawmakers can get busy making improvements. In this instance, the effort began in a troubling way: The governor and his party did not talk about collective-bargaining reform in the campaign. They did not build the mandate of, say, JobsOhio or balancing the budget without raising taxes.
Senate Bill 5 was sprung, rushed and burdened with language aimed at scoring big political points. And if voters reject Issue 2? Republicans still will have large majorities at the Statehouse. John Kasich still will sit in the governor’s office. If set back at the polls, he has pledged to try again to repair the collective-bargaining law. So vote “no,” and the state will have a chance to get it right.