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Issue 2: Ohio Public Unions Try to Overturn SB5 at the Ballot Box

Ohio voters prepare for intense and historic campaign over collective bargaining for public workers

John Morris walked down the tree-lined streets of Shaker Heights, knocking on doors and buttonholing residents.

An English teacher at the high school, Morris had a simple message to share: "We are dealing with cutbacks like every other citizen," Morris said. "We just want a place at the table."

Get ready, Ohio. Morris, and many others like him, will be coming soon to a door near you.

Thanks to Issue 2, this will not be a sleepy off-year election. On Nov. 8, Ohio voters will decide on the controversial law, championed by Gov. John Kasich and originally passed by the GOP-dominated Legislature as Senate Bill 5, to dramatically restrict the collective bargaining rights of the state's public workers.

Ohio residents will have front-row seats to what will likely prove to be a historic political circus as outside dollars flow in by the millions to bolster campaign coffers on both sides. A saturation blitz of TV ads, door-to-door canvassing and phone calls is already being unleashed on voters.

"I think a lot of people are going to be very surprised about the intensity of this campaign," said John Green, the executive director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. "An incredible amount of money is going to be spent on this."

Just like in every presidential election, this debate will likely come down to a street fight between motivated Ohioans.

Ask Jeff Arra, a high school teacher from Avon Lake, who helped gather signatures to force SB5 to a statewide vote.  He hates how SB5 supporters villify public workers as the reason for Ohio’s budget troubles. 

“We are not this goonish organization that’s causing people to go bankrupt,” he said. “It wasn’t public education, police or fire that caused the financial downturn. To say that there’s some kind of lavish lifestyle from public service, it’s just not true.”

Arra said Avon Lake teachers have accepted pay freezes, increased health-care and pension costs and generally work with management to step up for the good of the community.

“We’re not going to take money that’s not there,” Arra said. “We want the best education we can for our kids. I treat my students like my own kids, and I don’t want them to face a gutted school system.”

Ask Tom Zawistowski and you’ll get a different perspective. Today Zawistowski runs the Portage County Tea Party. Once he was an apolitical person – that is, until he served on an advisory board for an Ohio school district.

“It was clear the whole system was rigged,” he said. “There was no way to manage expenses, because the union contract bound you to do things you didn’t want to do. All the leverage was on the side of the union. Issue 2 is about putting the managers back in charge of their business.”

Breaking the Unions

At its core, SB5 alters collective bargaining by changing what’s open for negotiations. It puts more power in the hands of the managers by restricting what can be bargained for. For example, health care costs can’t be negotiated. Employees will pay at least 15 percent of their premiums. 

Rob Nichols, a Kasich spokesman, said the governor champions the bill because it will help make Ohio more competitive and help local governments get costs under control.

“Once Ohioans understand it’s built in common sense, they will see that it’s absolutely necessary if local governments are to lower their costs and keep taxes down,” Nichols said.

Mayor Dennis Clough of Westlake has openly supported SB5, arguing that the law puts much-needed control back in the hands of local elected officials.

Voters choose their mayors and school boards, so those officials – not union lawyers and arbitrators – should have more control over how taxpayers' money is spent, he said.

“This bill doesn’t take away collective bargaining, it just puts in some parameters,” Clough said. “I think the parameters will help resolve issues in a more expeditious fashion.”

But what SB5 proponents see as necessary and common sense, public employees see as a direct attack on the middle class. They say it will lower standards of living – and pave the way for public unions' eventual elimination.

Harriet Applegate, head of the North Shore AFL-CIO, said it will create "chaos" and mark the end of unions' traditional role in Ohio.

“If we lose this battle, we are sitting ducks for extinction, a union in name only,” Applegate said.

There’s some truth in that, said Green, the political scientist from Akron.

“The most important issue for unions is being able to bargain over a full range of topics, and they really believe these restrictions will cause them serious problems,” Green said. “And this strikes at public employees, the strongest part of the labor movement right now, so there’s a lot at stake.”

Union organizers say SB5 would unravel decades of battling for worker rights.

Kenny Yuko, a union organizer for 30 years and now a state representative for some of Cleveland’s East Side suburbs, said it’s all or nothing for working people.

“If this stuff gets taken away, our quality of life dies,” he said.

A Steeper Climb

The anti-SB5 side, has a number of advantages over their opponents in the campaign, Green said: The regular working people, the teachers, police and firemen who populate the union rolls. People like Morris, the Shaker Heights teacher.

Morris isn’t a political operative. He’s the guy who taught your kid English, who lives down the street in your neighborhood. 

That’s a powerful symbol, and SB5 foes have hundreds of John Morrises at their disposal across the state.

On the other side is – well, it's difficult to find a public face other than Kasich, who had a 35 percent approval rating in July. Supporters will argue they fight for the taxpayers, but that's a more nebulous connection.

"It isn’t that they can’t make a good case, because they can," Green said. "Connecting taxpayers directly to this issue is much more difficult. The average voter is not going to immediately understand that connection."

The other advantage the SB5 opponents have is that they secured the “no” vote on the ballot.

“If people are in doubt, they take the safe way out and vote no,” Green said. “It’s easier not to change something.”

A Quinnipiac University poll from July showed that 56 percent of those surveyed wanted to kill SB5 while 32 percent want to keep the law in place. There is an obvious partisan split, with the majority of Democrats wanting repeal and Republicans wanting to keep the law in place.

Still, the proponents of SB5 clearly have a chance in this referendum. Polls have shown that majorities favor certain individual provisions of the law, especially asking public employees to kick in more money for their health care and pensions, Green said.

But if you ask them about SB5 itself, or about broader restrictions to collective bargaining, voters become much more hostile to it, Green said.

"It really depends on how you frame the issue," he said.

And framing will be key in the weeks leading to Nov. 8.

Campaigns Mobilizing

Both sides have run TV ads, and campaign offices are opening across the state.

Leading the charge for each side will be newly formed coalitions that most Ohioans haven’t heard of. Supporting SB5 is Building a Better Ohio, a group that Kasich doesn’t run but that he openly supports, Nichols said.

“They are the boots on the ground in the actual campaign,” Nichols said of Building a Better Ohio. “The governor is very supportive of them.”

Both sides are focused on finding people who support their cause and enlisting them to bring others over to their side.

John Ryan, a campaign manager for We Are Ohio, the main union-based group, who once led the Cleveland area AFL-CIO, told a gathering of volunteers that the key to winning the election is getting more people like them out on the streets and talking to voters.

“Our door-to-door work will make all the difference,” Ryan said. "The polls show people are universally opposed to SB5."

Nichols, the governor's spokesman, disagrees with that assessment.

"As Ohioans learn more about it, they will recognize there’s lots of misinformation out there and Senate Bill 5 is a vital tool to keep taxes low," Nichols said. "Voters are savvy. They will separate mindless rhetoric from reality. They will do what they need to do to become informed, which bodes well for preserving Senate Bill 5."

Ben Franklin September 26, 2011 at 09:46 PM
The outrages results of this bill is that the Government Official exempted themselves. Government wasteful spending and the Cost of Elected Officials is a Big problem of the Government, Ohio and the Feds.
Chris September 26, 2011 at 10:31 PM
Karen, I bet you will be one of the first to complain when you need the services of fire or police and their response time is twice as long as it is now.....and unions are what I call a necessary evil at times. You say your family are union workers but hate it, so tell them to quit and work for a non-union place....you will see the difference. Now not all non-union employers are bad, but there are plenty who misuse their workers. And you will probably say that there are labor laws to protect workers, but have you ever tried to have those enforced and keep a job? I doubt it. So who can afford to be fired and spend months or years in courts to fight an illegal work condition or such? So maybe you see where I am going ?
John Brouse September 26, 2011 at 11:11 PM
I blame past Ohio Legislators for current Ohio budget issues and not the Public Worker themselves. Currently Public Workers contribute 10% towards their retirement. What the taxpayer doesn't hear from the public workers are the amounts mandated by the Ohio Revised Code which the employer(taxpayer) must contribute. Articles of the ORC mandate that 14% be contributed by the employer towards a teachers retirement, 24% for firefighters, 19.5% police officers and 26.5% to Ohio Highway Patrol officer's retirement. This is the percentage of their salary that is contributed. Schools, cities, townships and the State of Ohio are all funded thru tax dollars, whether it be a property tax,city income tax, state income tax, late fee tax, we are paying for the Public Workers retirement.
Robin Shannon September 27, 2011 at 02:36 AM
Michael, homeschooling children is the best idea you've posted. They will likely learn twice as much in half the time. If I had my way, police and fire would be handled differently than all other public sector employees. Aside from that, I have no qualms about taking away the ability of public sector unions to hold me, their employer, hostage to their demands.
Robin Shannon September 27, 2011 at 02:40 AM
Bill, where did you get those statistics from? And how did the Republicans come up with the $200K cutoff?
Robin Shannon September 27, 2011 at 02:41 AM
Chris, can you tell me about the plan to usurp certain senators? How/when are they carrying that out?
Robin Shannon September 27, 2011 at 02:44 AM
Bill, what is a living wage? And if a living wage is the answer, then why shouldn't everyone be paid double, triple, or quadruple the living wage? How do you qualify for a living wage--is a pulse enough?
Robin Shannon September 27, 2011 at 02:47 AM
If I actually believed you, I would suggest you hire someone to look up the address for you to where you can mail a check in any amount you wish to the US government.
Robin Anderson September 27, 2011 at 02:47 AM
Aw, beans! The AAUP-KSU was unable to gain a fair share fee article, through collective bargaining, in their agreement with KSU until 2005 and it still required a majority vote by it's membership before it became effective! AFSCME Local 153, representing the maintenance/service workers at KSU didn't manage to negotiate a fair share fee into it's agreement with the University until 2008 contingent upon "the union" reaching a negotiated percentage of bargaining unit members having joined the union. Given the services, mandated by law, that the bargaining unit representative must provide to all employees represented by the bargaining unit representative, whether said employee is a union member or not, it's only fair that those who do choose not to be union members help foot the bill.
Robin Shannon September 27, 2011 at 02:49 AM
Michael, I don't hate anyone, nor am I jealous of any other person. I don't have the time to survey who works harder, but I know that if the course is not changed, I will definitely be working many years longer than any teacher in order to make sure they can retire in 30 yrs, have a full pension, healthcare, etc.
Robin Anderson September 27, 2011 at 03:04 AM
It's also a 14.5% employer contribution for such non-teaching hourly employees as the maintenance/service personnel at public universities. If memory serves me correctly, I believe that the Ohio Administration/Legislature back around 2004/2005, when the stock markets were still bullish, also voted to give public employers a 6 month reprieve from paying their share of the retirement equation due to the fact that the public employee pension funds were then "flush with money".
Ward Benson September 27, 2011 at 01:07 PM
Rocketcat (no real names on Patch anymore?), you asked for sources, here you go: http://www.buckeyeinstitute.org/uploads/files/Taxpayers%20on%20the%20Hook.pdf http://www.buckeyeinstitute.org/teacher-salary District Name (select Stow-Munroe Falls) Year (select 2011) Order by (select Salary High to Low) Yes, it does seem unreal that there are public employees making upwards of $55/hr and they're not all managers either. Like I said the disparity between the haves and have-nots has increased to the point where many taxpayers have had enough. No, not all public employees fair as well. There were 5 teachers recently that were voted best of year but lost their jobs because the union said 'last hired, first fired' based on not qualifications or job performance but on the longevity rule. So, there's also the disparity among those in public unions. I'm not advocating the complete abolishment of unions. But, common sense and balance are greatly needed.
Rob Baker September 27, 2011 at 02:21 PM
Mike Duco, the Deputy Director at the Office of Collective bargaining, a division of the Department of Administrative Services that “serves as the principle representative of the State as an employer and negotiates all of the State’s labor contracts.” Our experience with our work force has been that they have taken concessions in an effort to avoid lay-offs. Last round: 1. we signed three year contracts with no general wage increases 2. we froze automatic steps for two years 3. we implemented a 3.8 % decrease for two consecutive years by furloughs (CSDs) 4. we froze Personal leave and its annual conversion for two years and 5. we cost shifted 28.5 million from the state to employees by changing the design of our Health Plan and dependent audit I thought "Our state is in financial trouble because of union demands over the years. Collective bargaining has been at the root of the issues more times than not."
Pala Balasubramainian September 27, 2011 at 05:44 PM
From the Chicago Tribune: Need we say more! Law gives huge pension perks to union leaders In all, 23 expected to collect combined $56 million in their lifetimes Jason Grotto | Chicago Tribune Sept. 21, 2011 All it took to give nearly two dozen labor leaders from Chicago a windfall worth millions was a few tweaks to a handful of sentences in the state’s lengthy pension code. The changes became law with no public debate among state legislators and, more importantly, no cost analysis. Twenty years later, 23 retired union officials from Chicago stand to collect about $56 million from two ailing city pension funds thanks to the changes, a Tribune/WGN-TV investigation found. Because the law bases the city pensions on the labor leaders’ union salaries, they are reaping retirement benefits that far outstrip the modest salaries they made as city employees. On average, their pensions are nearly three times higher than what the typical retired city worker receives. Read more @ chicagotribune.com.
Rachel Abbey McCafferty September 27, 2011 at 05:50 PM
It's always good to see a healthy debate on Patch, but don't forget to use your real name -- that's part of our terms of use. The full terms can be found here: http://brecksville.patch.com/terms
Karen Smart September 27, 2011 at 07:15 PM
Chris... I can understand how you feel. I think the word you used that I don't agree with is "necessary". I think if you are union and have worked union for years, you can't see it any other way. As I said, my family members are union people and hate the unions. I am a private sector worker. I honestly think, from what the postings are saying that union workers think working in the private sector must be so awful and we have no rights. So untrue. I'm 50 and have had this job for 20 years, prior to that I've had no problem. Unfortunately, the problems I encounter with employees in the public sector who should be fired... can't. Most private sector people get benefits, vacations and decent pay. It's the extreme complaining about this bill is upsetting. Your fighting for rights that we already have in the private sector, but taxpayers fund yours. You don't fund mine. And my city services will be just fine with police and fire. The bill does not say these jobs will be cut. I'm pretty sure my mayor will watch out for his city. No worries. From your letter here, I don't think you really get that private sector workers don't complain or get in a tizzy as much as unions always do. If a job is unfair, or pays too little, we can always quit and move on . Best to you.
Karen Smart September 27, 2011 at 07:17 PM
Ward.. right on!
Karen Smart September 27, 2011 at 07:19 PM
Scott... right on!
Donald R. Thompson September 27, 2011 at 09:53 PM
Most jobs have a starting pay rate and over time (5-10 years) you get raises until you hit top pay for that position. The city I work for sets a starting wage and you do not get to top pay for the position until you have completed 5 years of service in that position. As a group our unit has not seen any raises since 2008 (just speaking for myself) but new or newer employees who do not have their first 5 years completed still got/get their raises until they hit top pay for that position, people that have already hit top pay do not get any raise when we get a 0% "raise". NOT A USELESS TEACHER HERE, JUST A USELESS COP.
Donna Eason Pope September 27, 2011 at 10:49 PM
Dear Ward, I am retired now from the welfare dept in my county. I worked for 27 years and was only making $18.67 a hour when I retired. I had a caseload of 400 clients when I retired, (now the caseloads are at 700) and it was expected to keep up with all the needs of all of our clients. We took pay freezes and an increase in what we paid for our medical benefits just to work with management and the budget constraints of the county. Before I left, union employees voted to take furlough days to help again with budget constraints. "Low to middle income workers in the private sector making minimum to $20/hr...", were making more than me and everybody else with my years of service. You are being mislead by someone, public sector workers are not making the money you think they are. The public sector employees that are making the kind of money you are talking about are in manangement, NON-UNION. I challenge you to go to the welfare dept in your county and ask to shadow a worker for 1 week, then speak about the money we make and if it is 'too' much, I think you will have a different opinion. Also, go and volunteer at your local school and sit in the classrooms and see what it really takes to be a teacher in today's society. I will go one better, ask to ride in a police car for a week in a high crime district and see if you feel the same.
Donna Eason Pope September 27, 2011 at 10:52 PM
Karen, I say to you what I said to Ward and also most union workers want to go to work and work with realistic expectations!!!! Dear Ward, I am retired now from the welfare dept in my county. I worked for 27 years and was only making $18.67 a hour when I retired. I had a caseload of 400 clients when I retired, (now the caseloads are at 700) and it was expected to keep up with all the needs of all of our clients. We took pay freezes and an increase in what we paid for our medical benefits just to work with management and the budget constraints of the county. Before I left, union employees voted to take furlough days to help again with budget constraints. "Low to middle income workers in the private sector making minimum to $20/hr...", were making more than me and everybody else with my years of service. You are being mislead by someone, public sector workers are not making the money you think they are. The public sector employees that are making the kind of money you are talking about are in manangement, NON-UNION. I challenge you to go to the welfare dept in your county and ask to shadow a worker for 1 week, then speak about the money we make and if it is 'too' much, I think you will have a different opinion. Also, go and volunteer at your local school and sit in the classrooms and see what it really takes to be a teacher in today's society. I will go one better, ask to ride in a police car for a week in a high crime district and see if you feel the same.
Donna Eason Pope September 27, 2011 at 11:11 PM
This was in today's Cleveland Plain Dealer (in part), now who needs to get educated, note the union worker's has not had a raise in two years! CLEVELAND, Ohio -- "RTA's top boss has received a pay bump and a $20,000 bonus for an "outstanding job" in tough financial times, the agency's board president says. General Manager Joe Calabrese's salary now stands at $216,880 a year, after a 1.75 percent increase. But the head of RTA's largest union says the pay increase is "ridiculous,'' given cuts in RTA service last year and that workers with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 268 haven't had a new contract for two years.
gtksmom September 27, 2011 at 11:43 PM
Police and fire will still be unable to strike.
Donna Eason Pope September 28, 2011 at 12:31 AM
AMEN
Dave D September 28, 2011 at 02:40 AM
I am sure both the Federal and State governments would be glad to take a check, so why don't you make a couple of them out for 299 million, and help balance the budget.
Robin Anderson October 03, 2011 at 04:37 PM
"Step raises" are a negotiable term of compensation in any contract and, along with "longetivity pay", have been eliminated from many agreements between public employers and the bargaining unit representatives they deal with, ie, AFSCME Local 153, representing the maintenance/service personnel at Kent State University and the University eliminated both way back in 1985. Then, in an effort to stop the hemorrage of highly qualified/under-compensated employees to other employers, the University instituted a longetivity bonus, based on years of service, for all non-exempt hourly employees, non-union & union alike, sometime around 2005.
Ward Benson October 04, 2011 at 02:32 PM
Dear Donna, as I have said there is a disparity among the different public union workers. Your example is a good one. But, please refer to the following public information site so you can see what I'm talking about. You'll find educators making a LOT more than what you have stated. Just in Stow, Ohio there are around 130 staff members (many of them teachers, not just administration) making between $70,000 to $110,000 per year (actually the teachers' pay is based on 184 work days). This does not include pensions and benefits (you can also see that in the right column of the chart). Please refer to this: http://www.buckeyeinstitute.org/uploads/files/Taxpayers%20on%20the%20Hook.pdf http://www.buckeyeinstitute.org/teacher-salary District Name (select Stow-Munroe Falls) Year (select 2011) Order by (select Salary High to Low) Now, I think it's great that there are folks doing quite well in the public sector. But, during this financial crisis most of us homeowners are in right now, I think it's ludicrous for a school district to cry for an additional $65,000,000 when you see their actual salaries and benefits. I realize that the Stow/Munroe Falls levy issue (which was already defeated in August, but they are ignoring that vote) is different from SB5. But, it just makes the situation much more frustrating and is causing many to rebel against unions in general by supporting SB5. But, we need proper balance, not one extreme to another.
Jay October 13, 2011 at 04:57 PM
Why you'd even compare yourself & your job, to a policemans & his/her job, is quite laughable. Quit whining about others, including policemen/women making higher wages than you & do something about it.. Go apply for the job of police. I'd wager you'd not make it through the first week of training. If you're too old for police, try something else. A stagnant job makes for a miserable person. As for your links to buckeye for wage/employment comparison information, nice try bucco. Completely biased and unreliable. A bit of advice for you. This would be a good time to stop bitching about other peoples higher wages and do something to change that. Get off your butt & your computer & go take a course or training or whatever. If you don't bother to better yourself, you'll be posting your whiny drivel on solon patch forever.
Reasonable October 13, 2011 at 05:45 PM
That is it in a nutshell. Great job Flannery for putting it simply. They are trying to get everyone to forget how it used to be and I don't think enough people are buying into it. If, by some chance, they do convince enough people, I wonder how far backward we will have to go before people realize? And how long it will take to recover?
Denny Halderstein October 24, 2011 at 02:24 AM
A yes vote on Issue 2 will NOT lower your taxes...the money that normally goes to your schools, police and fire will be 'given' to corporations who will continue to move your jobs to China, but will support Kasich in the next election. The part in Issue 2 about pensions and healthcare is fine. It wouldn't hurt too many because they already pay into it. It is the lack of a say in safety for Emergency workers and in Class sizes and School safety for Teachers that is the problem.

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