If you’re anything like me, you’ve been barraged with rhetoric from both sides of the Senate Bill 5 issue. Rhetoric is often persuasive, but it doesn’t really give a person any solid facts to stand on. So what is the bill really about?
At its core, SB 5 (also known as Issue 2) is another effort put forward by government officials to cut spending in the public sector with the bill largely affecting public and government workers. Although many Americans are pushing for stricter spending budgets in the government, SB 5 allows for some big changes that have been causing a lot of controversy.
For teachers, SB 5 eliminates the “step raise” statutory salary schedules in favor of performance-based-pay determined partly on student performance. It abolishes all continuing contracts for teachers except for those made before July 2011. It removes seniority and length of service considerations from decisions regarding layoffs. The bill also eliminates current rules of leave and places the authority to set new policies on the Board of Education.
For health care benefit costs, SB 5 limits public employer contributions to 85 percent. So public employers will still be helping significantly with health care benefit costs and still more than what the majority of employers offer in the private sector. The bill also removes unions’ most effective bargaining tool: the strike action.
Perhaps the most controversial issue in the policies in SB 5 lies in changes to collective bargaining rights. Many of the bill’s policies reduce the types of collective bargaining that public workers with public employee unions can do. Specifically the bill states that bargaining for things like class sizes, wages, hours of employment, and terms and conditions of employment cannot be collectively bargained for. The bill also limits new collective bargaining agreements regarding sick leave and the certain types of leave that can be accumulated. However, the bill continues to allow collective bargaining for some benefits like pensions or health care as well as work safety issues.
Although collective bargaining and striking is out of the question in SB 5 it doesn’t limit what an individual public worker can bargain for. In that way, SB 5 seeks to put public employees in the same shoes as private workers. It’s not that a public worker can never try to get their pay raised or change the terms and conditions of their employment – they just have to do it individually, as it is done in the private sector. They also align more with the private sector workers in that the ability to gain a pay-raise is more performance and result based. Seniority may play a factor in job security, but no more than it does in the private sector should SB 5 be brought into law.
The reason collective bargaining and strike action removal is such a big issue goes back to the founding of the first unions. Unions were created to put enough power in the hands of employees to match or nearly match the power the employer had. They emerged during the Industrial Age in response to jobs that had poor and often dangerous working conditions for minimal pay and benefits. The individual worker had so little bargaining leverage that there was usually nothing they could do to improve their situation. However, together in a union the workforce became strong and able to level the playing field and demand better terms in the workers’ interest. The unions’ biggest and most effective weapon against unfair management was the strike.
This is why SB 5 is so controversial. It breaks down something that has been in place for nearly a century. To go back on anything that has such a long history is never easy and often worrying. After having the ability to collectively bargain, strike, and more for so long, the unions are concerned that the dissolution of them will cause public employees to suffer.
Those in support of SB 5 argue that it deflates the bloated levels of power public workers have had for many years now. They believe unions have become too effective and have abused their power and allowed many public workers to become lazy and entitled. Their view of SB 5 sees the bill as a way to cut costs in hard times where it can and needs to be cut. Many have largely supported the performance-based-pay and job evaluations as a much needed change in the public work sector. They argue that cutting workers who don’t perform in their jobs will increase efficiency and encourage better working practices in other public employees. Supporters believe that the necessity for union abilities like collective bargaining has lessened as standards are more easily enforced and that it’s time for each public employee to be hired or fired on their own abilities.
Those opposing SB 5 see the bill in a very different light. Some have even gone so far as to label it as dangerous, unfair, and detrimental to the economy. They are also keen to point out that while government officials are cutting from the public sector, politicians have failed to make cuts in their own benefits and wages. Opponents also believe the changes will lead to things like decreases in emergency task forces and cause shortages in health care workers and lead to overpopulated health care facilities with limited staffing. They say public sector employees have already had to take enough cuts and believe Ohio’s budget trouble stems from big corporations. They are concerned that without collective bargaining, individual workers will once again fall prey to greedy management and return to working conditions that existed prior to the rise of the union.
Wherever your opinions fall on Issue 2, I hope you’ll take away something from this article and make your voice heard November 8th at the polls.