Politics
5:44 pm
Tue November 1, 2011

Collective Bargaining Wrap Up: Part 2

Ohio’s new law that slashes the power of public employee unions has sparked one of the most bitter debates in modern Ohio history. Voters now have the chance to endorse it or kill it when they vote on state issue 2. Yesterday, statehouse correspondent Bill Cohen recalled for us how this measure got onto the ballot. Today, in part 2 of his wrap-up series, we hear pro and con arguments on some of the new law’s many provisions.

The law would make public employee strikes illegal, but critics warn that would backfire.  They note that when strikes were last banned, before the 1983 law that gave government workers collective bargaining power, Ohio nearly led the nation in strikes.

"We were averaging more than 60 strikes a year," says former Democratic Congressman Dan Eckert.  "We haven't had a strike in this state in a year.  We have only had 49 in the 12 years. 

"There have been no strikes, that's true because the politicians since 1983 have bought labor peace using taxpayer money for contracts which is no longer sustainable," says former Cincinnati councilman Jeff Berding, arguing for reinstating the strike ban.

Who Pays for Healthcare

Another provision would require all public employees to pay at least 10% of pension costs and 15% of health care premiums. 

"This is an effort to restore balance," says Governor John Kasich.  "Your average private sector worker in Ohio pays 23% towards their healthcare.  The average city worker in this state pays 9%."

Critics of the new law note that state employees already pay 10 and 15%.  The critics say let schools and local governments negotiate with their workers how much they should pay. 

The 'Vote No' drive stresses that the past 3 years government workers made $1 billion in concessions without the new limits on unions. 

"This report proves that collective bargaining works, that when employers and employees sit down and work together, we can solve problems," says Jay McDonald, head of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Union Dues

Another part of the new law says no longer may union contracts require workers to pay union dues or even partial payments. 

Dale Butland, debater for the 'Vote No' side, says that change would be unfair because unions would still be required to represent all workers. 

"It would akin to 10 people standing at a bus stop.  The first 9 people get on and pay their fare.  They 10th person gets on and says to the driver, 'well you know since you're going there anyway, how about I ride for free?'" says Butland.

"The other side has declared war on labor's house and it's about time we stand up," says Vice-President Joe Biden. 

Defenders of the new law say it's not a plot to kill unions, they're just trying to make union workers more responsible to their members.  For example, the 'Vote Yes' drive says, when union leaders resist moves to make layoffs and pay based on performance and not longevity, they show disdain for most recently hired, and the unions deserve to lose dues.

"The only way to get the unions to change their behavior is to threaten the pocketbook of the unions," says Jeff Berding. 

That issue of longevity vs. performance is another part of the new law.  It says no longer will pay and layoffs be based on seniority.  Merit will play a role too. Backers of the law say that's how the private sector operates.  Critics, though, worry employers won't be fair on how they judge their workers.

Taxes

Take a step back, say foes of the new law.  Ohio government programs wouldn't be so pinched and the state wouldn't need to squeeze middle class workers wallets so much if the rich paid more taxes.

"Ohio has 128 different special interest tax loopholes that cost us $7 billion a year," says Dale Butland.

But chambers of commerce say upping taxes on the wealthy would scare away new companies and their badly needed jobs.  Instead hold down government labor costs and taxes for everyone and a rising tide will lift all boats says Linda Woggon of the Ohio Chamber.

"When we lower taxes, people are better off and businesses can make more investment.  When they make more investment in our economy, we'll have a booming economy and jobs for all Ohioans," says Waggon.

In other words, despite some crossovers, this fight boils down to a classic debate between liberals and conservatives.