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Ohio's Senate Bill 5 will bring dramatic changes
The Plain Dealer, 3-Apr-2011
By Mark Naymik
With Reginald Fields and Aaron Marshall / Plain Dealer Reporters
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Gov. John Kasich and fellow Republican leaders delivered on their pledge last week to pass a collective-bargaining bill that dramatically reduces the power of some 350,000 unionized public workers, including teachers, police officers and firefighters.
Likewise, opponents of the bill, led by Democratic and union leaders, followed through on their promise to launch a campaign to kill the bill with a statewide referendum.
The contentious Statehouse debate that led to Kasich's signing of the bill Thursday night drew thousands of energetic protesters to Columbus, forced a splintering within the GOP ranks and set off some rare legislative maneuvering. With the ink now drying, this battle is over.
But a massive public campaign to win the hearts and minds of voters is only beginning. It will ignite full-scale election-year politics by attracting millions of dollars in political advertising, pulling in special interest groups from around the country, and drawing the national spotlight to American's favorite bellwether.
But the facts of the bill could easily be lost in the GOP's charge that the law will stave off financial doom, or in the Democrats' warning that the bill will kill the middle class.
Here's a look, politics aside, at key provisions of the bill, known as Senate Bill 5:
• Collective bargaining: Restricts collective bargaining to wage issues. Under the former law, public workers had a right to collectively bargain for wages, benefits such as health care and pensions and specific workplace conditions, including staffing levels at fire stations or building assignments for teachers. Under the new law most public workers will be able to bargain only on their pay.
• Safety equipment: Allows police and fire officials to negotiate for safety equipment. This is an exception to the above provision, which was added by the House. It concerns only equipment directly related to the safety of the officer or firefighter, like bulletproof vests and shields. It does not include other equipment, such as computers in squad cars.
• Traffic tickets: Prohibits linking patrol officer evaluations to how many citations they write. Patrol officers in some police agencies and the state highway patrol were evaluated and given pay increases, in part, according to how many traffic violations they issued to motorists. That can no longer be a basis for performance evaluation under the new law.
• Health care: Requires public workers to pay at least 15 percent of their health care coverage. The goal here is to force unionized workers to pay more for their health care costs and thereby lower that expense for local and state governments. Supporters of the law say that private sector workers on average pay about 23 percent of their health care costs.
• Merit-based pay for teachers: Ohio's 146,000 primary and secondary school teachers will be evaluated largely based on how their students did on standardized testing along with other more subjective criteria. By April 1 of each year, teachers would be evaluated based on their students' test scores, their licensure level, whether they had achieved "highly qualified" teaching status, at least two 30-minute or more observations of them by administrators as well as other criteria selected by local school boards. Decisions about which teachers are laid off or fired and what kind of pay they would receive would be based on this evaluation process.
• Pension pickups: Ohio governments cannot offer so called "pension pickups" where the governmental unit pays a portion of the 10 percent employees are supposed to contribute to their pensions. The law does not raise the employee contributions above the standard 10 percent, nor does it reduce the contribution levels of the state as an employer. However, a pension reform bill being considered in the House does increase contributions levels for pensions for teachers, police officers, firefighters and state highway patrolmen. Once again, it is not a part of SB 5.
• Binding arbitration: Eliminates binding arbitration and creates an alternative allowing contracts in some cases to go to voters if they cost more. If governmental employees in a union cannot reach an agreement with management on a new contract, a fact-finder must be appointed to make recommendations. If a majority of the union members or management reject the fact-finder's recommendations, the legislative body that oversees the government workers (a city council, for example) must hold a vote within 30 days of the current contract expiring to choose between the "last, best" offers of the union and management. If the legislative body chooses to do nothing, the last best offer of management becomes the new contract. In cases where the higher-cost offer is selected by the legislative body, the chief financial officer of the governmental body determines whether new revenue is needed to fulfill the offer that has been chosen. If so, there is a procedure by which signatures can be collected and both "last best" offers placed on the ballot for voters to chose between.
• Decertification: Makes it easier to end union representation by lowering the percentage of workers needed to trigger such a move. In the past, a majority of employees was needed to back a petition to decertify a union. Now, a vote by only 30 percent of workers is needed.
• Payroll deductions: Prohibits any public employer from providing an automatic payroll deduction for contributions to a union political action committee.
• Dues: Employees who do not want to join a union -- but nonetheless still receive the same wages and benefits spelled out in the union contract -- no longer have to pay "fair share" dues. Fair-share dues are based only on the cost of bargaining a contract and are less than full dues.
• Strikes: Prohibits public union workers from striking, though workers who strike illegally will not be subjected to jail time because lawmakers dropped proposed contempt of court penalties from an earlier version of the bill.
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