Some critics not out to kill bargaining bill
Dayton Daily News (OH) - Friday, March 4, 2011
Wednesday’s vote in the Ohio Senate on the collective bargaining bill was big, but it was not the end. Now the legislation goes to the Ohio House of Representatives, which is more conservative.

The review there may — or may not — be perfunctory. Some House Republicans don’t think the bill is restrictive enough. But the bill only passed in the Senate by one vote, 17-16. If the particulars change too much, then there might not be Senate support to approve any House changes.

(Six Republicans voted against the legislation. Republican Sens. Peggy Lehner, of Kettering; Bill Beagle, of Tipp City; and Chris Widener, of Springfield, voted for the bill. So did Clearcreek Twp.’s Shannon Jones, who was the sponsor.)

Meanwhile, later this month, Gov. John Kasich will propose a budget. He’s said he’ll offer still more changes related to collective bargaining in that document.

Then there’s the possibility of a referendum. If critics of the bill get enough signatures, then the law — if it passes — would be put on ice until after November.

Over and above the complexities of the process, confusion reigns about how exactly some changes would play out in the real world.

For instance, layoffs couldn’t be imposed based only on seniority. But the rules for how they could proceed aren’t clear.

The legislation also requires teachers to get raises according to merit, which presumably would take into account their success in the classroom. But there’s a lot of debate, even among people who believe in merit pay, about how much reliance there should be on standardized testing and how you fairly evaluate teachers who teach special-ed or music where student proficiency isn’t tested.

There’s a requirement that public employees would have to pay at least 15 percent of the cost of their health care. But public administrators don’t know if that minimum applies just to insurance premiums or also to the financial incentives some employers offer to entice workers to choose insurance plans that cost less but have high deductibles. (Those plans have helped slow the increase in health care.)

Binding arbitration for police and firefighters — where an outsider can impose a settlement — is eliminated in the legislation. Instead, if management and a union couldn’t agree, a fact-finder would size up the situation. Then there would be a public hearing, after which the relevant elected officials would have to pick either management’s or the union’s last offer.

Some people say this arrangement stacks the deck against management, that elected officials would never side with a city manager when they’re facing a packed room of police or firefighters in uniform.

Other people say just the opposite — that elected officials will be in the position of making an offer and then saying, of course, we like ours best.

Professor Charles Wilson, of Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, worries that the legislation is a “full employment act” for lawyers. A Worthington school board member whose practice formerly was to represent management, he thinks age-discrimination lawsuits, for instance, could become common if school districts aren’t careful about how they decide whose teaching contracts aren’t renewed and who is laid off.

(Ohio’s debate on this issue is, like Wisconsin’s, being widely followed. Mr. Wilson, on Thursday, fielded calls from reporters in Libya and Egypt about the legislation.)

The stakes are high. State and local governments and school districts have negotiated away too much authority, and their hands also have been tied by Ohio’s collective bargaining law.

Just the same, the changes being proposed are so extensive that there are bound to be unintended consequences that get in the way of government being effective.

Ohio’s public employee unions have said they don’t want to negotiate about the legislation, that they’re taking their complaints directly to voters. There are, however, others who want to see collective bargaining reforms, but who are worried about specific provisions of the Senate bill.

They need to be listened to. Those who actually will have to implement the law can prevent headaches down the road.