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Voters set to settle bill battle

Tom Jackson • Nov 6, 2011 at 1:00 PM

Many people argue that Senate Bill 5 is about fairness.

But the question is, fairness to whom?

Is it fair to government workers — almost all of them members of the middle class — to allow them to bargain collectively for their wages, benefits and working conditions?

Or is it fair to taxpayers to put some restrictions on bargaining rights, if only to ensure those government workers pay a fair share of the cost for their pensions and benefits?

Here’s a look at the two opposing sides:

Pro-SB5: It’s fair to taxpayers

Most taxpayers can only envy the lavish benefits public employees enjoy, say proponents of Senate Bill 5.

Private employees pay 31 percent of the cost of their family’s health care premium, while local government workers pay a little more than 8 percent, according to Building a Better Ohio, the group pushing to preserve Senate Bill 5.

It’s only reasonable to ask all government employees to cover 15 percent of the cost of their health insurance, the group says.

And at a time when many private workers have no pension at all, it’s only fair to make all government workers in Ohio cover at least 10 percent of their pension costs, the group argues.

Proponents of Senate Bill 5 say the cost of government in Ohio is out of control, and personnel costs threaten the government’s ability to provide services taxpayers expect.

Building a Better Ohio says Toledo axed its residential street-repaving program this year to pay for employee pension obligations. Cincinnati’s expenses for the city workforce have gone up 18 percent a year over the past decade, even as the city’s population fell.

In an interview in May with the Sandusky Register, Gov. John Kasich described Senate Bill 5 as “an effort to give local governments, local communities and local school districts the tools to deal with fewer resources.

“What we have said in the collective bargaining reform is that if a public employee wants to negotiate on wages and working conditions, they’re entitled to do it,” Kasich said. “But when it comes to health care and pensions, that’s something that ought to be decided by people who represent taxpayers, namely mayors and city councils and superintendents.”

Anti-SB5: It’s unfair to workers

Opponents of Senate Bill 5 say the bill hurts the middle class, and it will hurt the economy and make Ohio less safe.

Trying to force down the wages and benefits of public employees will only hurt the businesses that depend upon their spending, this group says.

Merchants, too, will suffer because their customers have been hurt.

Government studies do not support the claim that public employees are overpaid, according to We Are Ohio, the main group campaigning for repeal of Senate Bill 5.

According to the group, a Rutgers University study showed that public employees earn 6 percent less a year than equivalent employees in the private sector.

The average employee in the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, which represents workers who are not school employees, makes $24,000 a year and retires with an average pension of $900 a month.

The bill keeps police and firefighters from negotiating on staffing levels for patrol and fire stations, the group says, which makes Ohio communities less safe.

State Rep. Dennis Murray, D-Sandusky — who favors repeal of Senate Bill 5 — said many people appear to be unaware that public employees do not pay into Social Security and are not eligible to receive a Social Security check when they retire.

“When I talked to people, I always mention that,” Murray said earlier this year. “I was surprised to learn about that myself shortly after I was first elected.”

Murray has predicted that if the Kasich administration wins the fight over Senate Bill 5, Republicans and the Kasich administration will then try to pass a so-called Right to Work law, similar to laws that exist in many Southern states where unions are weak.

The law, which would allow workers to opt out of participating in a union and paying union dues, really ought to be called a “A Right to Work for a Lot Less Law,” Murray said.

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