Cuts In Collective Bargaining In Ohio

While there has been much focus on the drama that produced Wisconsin’s changes in its public employees collective bargaining law, even more substantial changes have occurred in Ohio. The political dynamics in the two states are the same – newly-elected Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature, and a Republican governor. Unlike Wisconsin’s law, however, Senate Bill 5 in Ohio, signed into law on April 1, 2011 by Governor John Kasich, focuses on public safety employees as well as general employees.

One of the most important changes was the elimination of binding arbitration for law enforcement and fire protection personnel. Instead, the legislative body of the public employer will be the final decision-maker with respect to any dispute that is unresolved. Any agreement determined by the legislative body must be in effect for three years. If the legislative body fails to select a last best offer, the public employer’s last best offer becomes the agreement between the parties.

SB 5 doesn’t stop there. The bill expands the definition of “supervisor” in police and fire departments, reducing the number of employees eligible to be in a union. More specifically, SB 5 prohibits an appropriate unit of firefighters from including rank and file members with members who are of the rank lieutenant and above.

The scope of what is negotiable is also greatly reduced. SB 5 permits public employers to not bargain on any subject reserved to the management and direction of the governmental unit, even if the subject affects wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment. The Bill bars a collective bargaining agreement from prohibiting a public employer that is in a state of fiscal emergency from serving a written notice to terminate, modify, or negotiate the agreement, and makes illegal a collective bargaining agreement from prohibiting a public employer that is in a state of fiscal watch from serving a written notice to modify a collective bargaining agreement so that salary or benefit increases, or both, are suspended.

The new law turns Ohio into a “right-to-work” state by banning contracts from containing a provision that requires as a condition of employment that the nonmembers of the employee organization pay to the employee organization a fair share fee. SB 5 also bars collective bargaining agreements from containing provisions limiting a public employer’s ability to privatize operations.

SB 5 does not leave benefits untouched. DROP plans are prohibited, as are agreements under which an employer agrees to pay any portion of the employee’s pension contribution. The statute caps vacation leave for most public employees at 7.7 hours per biweekly pay period and limits total accrual for those public employees currently accruing 9.2 hours per pay period. Sick leave accrual for most public employees is capped at 3.1 hours per biweekly pay period. SB 5 directly takes on health insurance, limiting public employer contributions toward health care benefit costs to 85%, and requiring health care benefits provided to management level employees to be the same as any health care benefits provided to other employees of the same public employer. SB 5 also removes consideration of seniority and length of service, by itself, from decisions regarding a reduction in work force of certain public employees.

The new law not only prohibits public employees from striking, it also requires the public employer to deduct from the compensation of a striking employee an amount equal to twice the employee’s daily rate of pay for each day or part-day that the employee engaged in a strike.

The breadth of SB 5 is extensive. The law expands the list of unfair labor practices that may be committed by an employee organization, its agents, or public employees and the remedies that may be applied for unfair labor practices committed by those entities. It requires a public employer to report certain information about compensation paid to public employees under a collective bargaining agreement, and repeals a provision requiring the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Law to be liberally construed.

A referendum drive has been started to refer SB 5 to the voters. Under Ohio law, 231,149 signatures must be collected for the referendum election to be held. If enough signatures are submitted by June 30, 2011, the law will not go into effect unless and until the voters approve it.

This article appears in the June 2011 Issue