Some call it a common sense law to control government labor costs and help over-burdened taxpayers. Others call it an attack on public employees, unions, and the whole middle class. Both sides are talking about the same thing: State Issue 2. It’s on the ballot so voters can either endorse or kill the new collective bargaining law that Republicans pushed through the legislature. Part one of a two part series from Ohio Public Radio's Bill Cohen.
This story began one year ago on election night. That's when Ohioans voted in a new Republican governor, John Kasich. Voters also gave Republicans big majorities in the Ohio House and Senate. They proposed several limits on the negotiating power of public employee unions, representing 350,000 teachers, police, firefighters, garbage collectors, prison guards and more.
Thousands protested at the Statehouse though the protests didn't stop Republicans from passing the new limits on union muscle. That's when the unions and their allies took to the streets again. They gathered 900,000 valid signatures of registered voters to block the new law from taking effect and put it on the ballot.
Now it's up to voters to approve the entire law with a yes vote or repeal it with a no vote. There's no picking and choosing among dozens of provisions. Here are some key ones:
- Strikes would be illegal.
- Binding arbitration for safety forces would end.
- All public employees would be required to pay at least 10% of pension costs and 15% of health care premiums
- Longevity would no longer be a factor in pay and layoffs, merit would be added.
Governor Kasich argues if schools, cities and the state can hold down labor costs, taxes can be held down or even cut, and that attracts more companies and their jobs.
"If we can manage our costs at the state and local level, we can set the platform for economic growth and entrepreneurship," says Kasich.
But government workers worry their wallets could take a big hit with such little power at the bargaining table. JoAnn Johntony has been a school custodian for 44 years. How she heads a union also representing cafeteria workers, crossing guards and bus drivers.
"My workers make $8.99 an hour," says Johntony. "You tell me how you raise a family on $8.99 an hour, and now you want to reduce it?"
Each side has its own research, comparing public and private sector workers compensation. 'Vote No' pegs the government workers package at 3-6% less. 'Vote Yes' pegs the government workers at 46% more. The US Labor Department declares total compensation virtually the same.
A Firestorm Over Ads
The face and voice of a 78 year old woman symbolizes how both sides are battling over the issue of staffing levels. Marlene Quinn volunteered to help the 'Vote No' side. In a TV ad, she talks of how firefighters rescued her great-granddaughter. Quinn adds since the new law would block unions from bargaining on staffing levels, future fire victims could be in danger. But that's where the 'Vote Yes' side created a firestorm.
It grabbed some of Quinn's comments, and put them into a vote yes ad. There's no mention Quinn has voted no. Instead the ad focuses on Quinn's goal of more firefighters and makes her look like a backer of the law while an announcer ads a message that not backing Issue 2 will cause firefighter layoffs.
Who Has the Final Say
Under the new law, in long running impasses both sides submit their final best offer and management picks one. Critics call that rigged.
"Tails, I win; heads, you lose," says Columbus teacher Phil Hayes. "That's what it is. It's not bargaining. It's begging."
"Management has no incentive to bargain in good faith because they know at the end of the day, they can simply impose whatever they want," says Dale Butland, a debater for the 'Vote No' side.
But management must have final say according to the backers of the new law.
"Let the city council determine what the city can afford because they're the ones that have to manage the city," says Governor John Kasich.