Why Ohio's Senate Bill 5 (aka Issue 2) Must Go Down in Defeat this November
As was previously the case in Wisconsin and New Jersey, with the introduction of Senate Bill 5, Ohio Gov. John Kasich infamously joined the ranks of Republican governors who immediately following the 2010 midterm elections opted to declare an all-out war on labor unions over collective bargaining.
This controversial legislation was widely trumpeted by Ohio GOP Leaders and local captains of industry as a bitter but critical component of a broad range of measures advanced to balance the state’s biennial budget and force much-needed fiscal responsibility.
However, Senate Bill 5 egregiously seeks to burst unions by fundamentally circumscribing the ability of nearly 500,000 Ohio teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees to collectively bargain and strike. It denies unions their main source of sustenance by limiting their capacity to charge "fair share" dues to employees who opt out. SB 5 only permits civil servants to collectively bargain for wages but not health insurance and pensions. It also notably tilts the labor-management power differential in the latter’s favor by prohibiting unions and the public employees they represent from striking when negotiations falter.
Although the bill was unremittingly enacted by the Republican-dominated State Assembly and quickly signed into law several months ago by Gov. Kasich, its gathering opposition coalition did not despair since there was a glimmer of hope that the legislation could still be stopped dead on its tracks.
A provision in Ohio statute makes an allowance for the state’s citizens to, through a statewide referendum process, be the final arbiter when contentious or divisive laws are enacted.
The key qualification is that the stipulated requisite number of petition signatures must be promptly gathered and certified by the state’s premier electoral official.
For a petition to be deemed valid for a referendum by the Ohio Secretary of State, the petition sponsors must, within three months of the legislation’s enactment, collect at least six percent of the total votes cast in the state for the office of governor during the most recent gubernatorial election. Additionally, petitioners must come from at least 44 of the state’s 88 counties and the collected signatures from each county must be no less than three percent of the total votes cast for the office of governor in that county at the last gubernatorial election.
After Gov. Kasich appended his signature to SB 5, a massive petition campaign quickly set in motion by a coalition of Ohio Democrats and labor union leaders, under the aegis of a new umbrella organization, We Are Ohio, astonishingly gathered in excess of 1.3 million signatures---which represented a million more than was statutorily needed to place the measure on the ballot for the upcoming November elections.
Since then, either side has embarked upon a media blitzkrieg of sorts seeking to systematically increase its support base and discredit the opposition.
What’s particularly troubling is that the Republican supporters of SB 5, now coalesced under a new tertiary organization known as Building a Better Ohio, in a move that smacks of desperation and rabid zero-sumness, resorted to a campaign that is anchored by a heap of fabrications, half-truths and innuendos.
At the crux of the GOP campaign is a battery of economic claims that are as logically unsound as they are questionable.
The photo-op sound bites from both Gov. Kasich and Republican House Leaders and the ads that Building a Better Ohio has been running basically paint public employees, compared to their counterparts in the private sector, as over-paid, whiny and unreasonable; almost indisputably insinuating that this hard working cadre of middle class Ohioans should be blamed for the state’s fiscal woes---that things would be so much better if they’d simply fall in line and pay their fair share!
Beyond the fact that this line of reasoning creates a totally unnecessary chasm between the citizenry, it singles out civil servants in a manner that is overtly incendiary and acrimonious.
The attempt to compare workers in government against those in industry, to me, seems fundamentally flawed. Proponents have unswervingly framed the discussion in a way that automatically assumes that whatever obtains for the latter is unquestionably “the gold standard” worthy of emulation by the former. Rather than whittle public employee benefits down to more closely approximate what currently obtains for private sector workers, couldn’t a credible case be made that, since guaranteeing or safeguarding some of these existential benefits are widely accepted as an intrinsic mark of a civilized, humanized society, there should actually be movement in the opposite direction?
The issue has really never been whether or not tough decisions and sacrifices should be made to get Ohio’s economic house in order. To the contrary, it’s always been about finding a fair and more equitable way to share the burden.
Unfortunately, the Republican position in Ohio and elsewhere has consistently been one that exacts agonizing sacrifices from the working class and the poor just as it perplexingly gives a pass to big business and the rich, by design or default, through a slew of tax loopholes, tax cuts and tax holidays.
For Ohio’s 2012-2013 biennial budget, even as Gov. Kasich was slashing local government and school district funds by a whopping $2 billion, he still managed to write off nearly $850 million in state revenue receipts in the form of tax cuts!
As already noted, SB 5 is historic foremostly in the way that it de-fangs public unions and tilts the power balance in management’s favor. Not only does it ban strikes, it eliminates automatic pay increases and even jettisons binding arbitration---the process that the state’s first responders (police officers and firefighters) have traditionally employed to resolve contract disputes as an alternative to strikes.
What often escapes mention is that SB 5 is equally a critical part of a larger baleful, gerrymandering effort by the Ohio GOP Leadership to enhance its overall electoral victory potentials this November and in 2012 by neutralizing unions as a funding power-house for Democratic candidates.
For Ohioans, Issue 2 is indubitably a major cross-roads conundrum. Victory or a no vote this November would offer the clearest repudiation yet of the state’s agenda under Gov. Kasich and, most notably, set the stage for a showdown of monstrous proportions in Ohio during the 2012 presidential elections.