The acrimonious discussions about Ohio Senate Bill 5 reflect deep ideological and partisan divisions that distract from a serious discussion of much-needed reforms to Ohio’s public sector collective bargaining laws. With the passage of SB 5, the pendulum that swung excessively to the left in 1984 when Revised Code 4117 took effect has now swung excessively to the right.
For Ohio’s local municipal government the prior system included binding arbitration for safety forces. This requirement produced negotiations that rewarded unions for “piling on” demands with no real incentive to compromise because a “conciliator” would “split the difference” or agree with the union position. Future negotiations would start using the prior contract as the floor for negotiations and continue to add to the benefits. The result is a police contract that automatically gives 120 hours of compensatory time to every officer on Jan. 1 of each year, and then allows an officer with 22 years of service to sell it back each year for three years. It also includes a Police and Fire Departments contract in which everyone except the police Chief and one other command officer and the Fire Chief are in a union.
Binding arbitration produced successive benefit-rich contracts with the police and fire unions resulting in the combined budgets of the city of Cincinnati’s police and fire departments now consuming 67 percent of the city’s general fund.
I have always believed that employees have a right to collectively bargain for wages and for benefits. Prior to SB 5, the debate in Cincinnati City Council was not about the wages that our dedicated men and women in our safety services earn. It was about the excessive benefits awarded through binding arbitration that are eating away at our general fund resources and crippling the city’s ability to deliver other essential services.
Unfortunately, SB 5’s remedy to binding arbitration is to place the power to ultimately decide the contract provisions for municipal public sector union workers in the hands of local elected officials, such as Cincinnati City Council. While all elected officials must balance the interests of taxpayers, citizens and employees, public sector unions have used endorsements and contributions to local office holders to exert substantial influence on public decision-making.
We need to reform Ohio’s public sector collective bargaining law. Unfortunately, in the haste to pass such reform, SB 5 deprives workers of the fundamental right to bargain for benefits, not just wages, and replaces binding arbitration with the political judgments of elected officials seeking public sector union endorsements and support.
Is reform needed? Yes. But, I cannot support SB 5 because it takes away the right of workers to bargain over benefits and it makes local elected officials the final arbitrators of contracts between the city and its unions.
I also have decided that regardless of the outcome of the referendum challenging SB 5, I will no longer accept public sector union endorsements and contributions to my city council campaigns.
— Roxanne Qualls, Cincinnati Vice Mayor