By As the debate rages on in Ohio and Wisconsin regarding Republican proposals to eliminate collective bargaining for police, firefighters, teachers, and all other public sector workers, one has to ask: what is collective bargaining?
Public sector workers, although employed by the state, county, city or other public entity, are members of labor unions. Typically every three years, union officials, acting as the “exclusive bargaining representatives” of the membership, sit down with the employer at the bargaining table to negotiate a contract that governs the members’ terms and conditions of employment. The contract, or collective bargaining agreement, is the agreed-upon result of negotiations on issues such as employee wages, health insurance, retirement, work schedules and assignments, and layoff procedures, just to name a few. This process is known as “collective bargaining.”
Senate Bill 5, as introduced in the Ohio Senate, would prohibit state employees from participating in collective bargaining, a right they have had in Ohio since 1983. The bill also prohibits negotiation at the local level on issues such as health insurance, pension contributions, and application of seniority to determine order of layoffs. These issues would be determined either by state law, or solely at the discretion of management on the basis of “merit,” which remains undefined.
SB 5 also eliminates conciliation, otherwise known as final and binding arbitration, as the process to resolve disputes between labor and management when consensus cannot be reached through contract negotiations. Under current law, labor and management mutually agree on the identity of a neutral third party who serves in the capacity of decision-maker after taking into account the arguments of both sides to the dispute.
Last week, the Senate Commerce and Labor committee amended the bill allow state workers to collectively bargain on wages only. Additionally, the amendment would prohibit all public employees from going on strike under the penalty of docked wages, severe fines, job termination and up to 30 days imprisonment. Conciliation was replaced by a process whereby the public employer – the county commissioners, city council, etc, - serve as the decision maker after contract negotiations stall. For example, if contract negotiations between the public employer and the union are unsuccessful, the public employer would determine whether its position or the union position is preferable, as opposed to a mutually agreed upon, neutral third party. This is what proponents of the bill perceive to be restoration of balance to the collective bargaining process?
These proposed changes have triggered massive protests in Columbus from workers who feel this initiative, championed by newly-elected Governor John Kasich, is politically driven. I agree.