Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ohio Issue 2 - A Proper Redress (Part 2)

BLOG UPDATE:  I've re-decorated and re-named my blog. I've also moved it. See here for the details.  I'll continue to post at both blogs for a short time, but I'd appreciate it if you'd follow me over to the new place and update your subscriptions and feeds.


[Part 1 - Why reforms are needed]
[Part 3 - Teachers]

If you live in Ohio, you know about Issue 2, which is a referendum to stop the union/public employment reforms enacted by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Kasich. The airwaves have been filled with emotional ads featuring teachers, firefighters, nurses, paramedics, and police officers. 

Unfortunately, much of the rhetoric has seemed personal. If you say you are voting YES on Issue 2 (voting for the reforms), you're told you are trying to "destroy the middle class" (even if you are middle class yourself), you want to put safety forces in danger, and you want to see your child's teacher unemployed (and poor). It's no wonder there are very few Yes on 2 signs in Ohio yards. Who would want to admit to all that? 

To ramp up the emotional blackmail appeal, the AFL-CIO is now running ads with firefighters who served our country as soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In one ad, a Columbus firefighter and war veteran says:
"I never expected to have to fight our own government… to have a voice in my own safety and work conditions."
From the AFL-CIO blog:
“We didn’t expect this kind of homecoming when we came back,” says Columbus fire fighter David Jarvis, who served in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and served in Operation Desert Storm during the first Gulf War."
The claim that public employees will not have a "voice in their own safety and work conditions" has been repeated throughout the campaign and I suspect it will convince a lot of people to vote to strike down the reforms in SB5. We've been told that not only will police and firefighters be in danger, but our own families will be as well.  One radio ad featured a 911 call with the dispatcher telling a frightened family with a robber in their home that the police wouldn't arrive for 20 minutes because they were short staffed.  Listeners were told this is what we should expect if Issue 2 passes. 

But is it true?

The answer depends upon which question you're asking. Let's try to unravel a few of them.

First, let me take a minute to explain exactly what Senate Bill 5 (SB 5) is. Many of its opponents have claimed that it's 300 pages long and very confusing.  The Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio said, "This 300 page bill is very complicated and proposes to make numerous, substantial and interrelated changes in the law." That's a half-truth, at best. 

The introduction to SB 5 says, 
"AN ACT To amend sections [then it lists dozens of sections] of the Revised Code to make various changes to laws concerning public employees, including collective bargaining, salary schedules and compensation, layoff procedures, and leave."
The vast majority of the 300 pages of this Act, which became a Bill (SB 5) and then became a law (remember School House Rock? I'm Just a Bill?), are sections of the Revised Code that have remained unchanged. The entire text of each section that has even one word changed must be included, which means that a LOT of ink is spilled when ever there is a new law passed!  Here's an example:

(C) Unless a public employer specifically agrees otherwise in an express written provision of a collective bargaining agreement, nothing in Chapter 4117. of the Revised Code impairs the right and responsibility of each public employer to:
(1) Determine matters of inherent managerial policy which include, but
are not limited to areas of discretion or policy such as the functions and
programs of the public employer, standards of services, its overall budget,
utilization of technology, and organizational structure;
(2) Direct, supervise, evaluate, or hire employees;
(3) Maintain and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of
governmental operations;
(4) Determine the overall methods, process, means, or personnel by
which governmental operations are to be conducted;
(5) Suspend, discipline, demote, or discharge for just cause, or lay off,
transfer, assign, schedule, promote, or retain employees;
(6) Determine the adequacy of the work force;
(7) Determine the overall mission of the employer as a unit of
(8) Effectively manage the work force;
(9) Take actions to carry out the mission of the public employer as a
governmental unit Hire, discharge, transfer, suspend, or discipline
(2) Determine the number of persons required to be employed or laid
(3) Determine the qualifications of employees;
(4) Determine the starting and quitting time and the number of hours to
be worked by its employees;
(5) Make any and all reasonable rules and regulations;
(6) Determine the work assignments of its employees;
(7) Determine the basis for selection, retention, and promotion of
Wherever something is crossed out, it means something has been removed from existing law. When something is underlined, it has been added. Text with no markings is current law that remains unchanged. If you take a minute to skim through the new law, you'll see that the majority of it remains unchanged. Opponents of SB 5 would have us believe that the Republicans add 300 pages of new laws. That's simply not true.

Now back to the issue of safety forces. At issue is this:
(B) The following subjects are not appropriate subjects for collective
(5) The number of employees required to be on duty or employed in any
department, division, or facility of a public employer
 (F) Notwithstanding division (C) of this section, equipment issues
directly related to personal safety are subject to collective bargaining.
If you've been following along, you noted that this is underlined, so it's been added to existing law.  So it's true that public employees will not be allowed to collectively bargain for staffing levels.  However, claims that it would be "illegal" for public employees to talk to their employers about staffing levels are merely hyperbole. No firefighters or teachers will be thrown in jail for expressing their opinions about staffing levels and exercising their First Amendment rights. The new law just says that it can't be a subject of the "official" collective bargaining process. 

Note also that safety forces can collectively bargain for safety equipment. This is a new right that they did not have before SB5.  Apparently the unions are not telling their members this, because I've seen comments all over the blogs saying they will not have this right if SB5 is enacted. 

However, the more important question is whether that will make them (and us) less safe. Since individual police officers, firefighters and paramedics won't be deciding on staffing levels, it will be left to the discretion of management - that means fire and police chiefs. Of course, they will have to work within the budget dictated by the local government unit, but why wouldn't they be competent to make intelligent, informed decisions about staffing levels? They have years of experience in their areas of expertise and are well-qualified for this task. 

Opponents of Issue 2 would have us believe that miserly city councils and township trustees would immediately slash budgets and cut safety forces down to skeleton crews in order to build new dog parks.  What motive they supposedly have for putting their constituents and their own families in danger, I do not know. 

The truth is, there is not an unlimited pot of money from which to pay safety forces, though Ohio governments have lived in that fantasy land for many years now. In the past, when unions would show up at the bargaining table to demand more, more, more, an impasse could result in binding arbitration, where the recommendation (and mandate) might be for the city to borrow money to meet the demands.  SB 5 gives local governments tools to control their budgets including controlling staffing levels, eliminating binding arbitration, and requiring public employees to pay minimal amounts toward their health care and pensions. 

The result of not enacting these reforms is the real danger. With bloated budgets and unsustainable projected deficits in cities across the country, layoffs will be necessary. That is a far more serious concern than trusting fire chiefs and police chiefs to decide staffing levels based on actual, realistic budgets. The money pot has run out and cities need these tools to keep us safe and to keep us from fiscal disasters. 

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