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Get the Facts On Ohio SB 5

April 3, 2011
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

It is virtually inevitable that the fate of a new Ohio law on collective bargaining will be decided at the ballot box. That gives Buckeye State voters several months to learn what the statute requires - and what is does not include.

Both houses of the General Assembly approved the measure, Senate Bill 5, on Wednesday. Gov. John Kasich signed it into law Thursday.

Opponents of SB 5 have vowed to tie it up in court and force a referendum on it. That would delay implementation until after a vote this fall.

Again, it is nearly certain a referendum will be on the fall ballot. State law requires those who seek a vote to obtain 231,148 valid signatures on petitions supporting the move. There are approximately 350,000 unionized public-sector workers in Ohio, so it should be easy to meet the petition stipulation.

Critics of SB 5 insist it is an attempt to destroy public employee unions in Ohio. It is no such thing. Implementation of the law will leave unions for teachers, firefighters, law enforcement officials and other government workers alive and very well - and with substantial power. They still will be able to negotiate with local and state officials for important contract provisions including wages and some working conditions, including those related to safety.

What SB 5 does is to prohibit collective bargaining by public employee unions on issues such as health insurance, sick leave and pension benefits.

For decades, many local and state officials have passed the buck in union negotiations on those issues. Afraid to antagonize union leaders, they have granted health care and pension benefits that are lavish in comparison to those in the private sector.

Some local government employees in East Ohio enjoy health insurance benefits for which they have to pay as little as 10 percent of the premiums. Few private employers can afford that. Neither can Ohio taxpayers.

Pension programs for many public employees also are of the stuff private-sector dreams are made. Tens of thousands of Ohio government employees are permitted to retire, then go back to work collecting salaries while pension benefits continue to build up.

An idea of just how deeply in debt Ohioans have been buried by collective bargaining for public employees can be gained by a look at just one pension program, the one serving public school teachers. It has an unfunded liability of about $39 billion.

SB 5 has other provisions that will appeal to many voters. For example, automatic pay raises are banned in favor of performance or merit increases. Strikes by public employees are prohibited.

The unions detest such limits on their power. But we think Ohio voters will approve of them, once they learn just what SB 5 would do for the vast majority of Buckeye State residents. When voters go to the polls this fall, they will cast ballots based on facts - not the unions' propaganda.

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