Voters are slated to go to the polls in November to repeal the Ohio governor’s anti-union, anti-collective bargaining law that Republican Gov. John Kasich pushed through with his Republican majority last March.
The statewide referendum, slated for November, looks favorable for the unions. They held a two-to-one edge over the unpopular Ohio governor in recent polls on the issue.
The unions and the governor have been waging a bitter media campaign, and even President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have joined the fray, siding with unions.
Meanwhile, Republican Mitt Romney has found the issue particularly tricky as he tries to balance conservative Republican primary voters with the need to win Ohio, with its many moderates and union members, in the general election. A Republican has not won the presidency without Ohio in over a century.
Helping make the case for the unions is a new report released by Protecting Ohio’s Protectors, which found that Ohio public employees have already made their share of sacrifices, with contract concessions on the state and local level worth over $1 billion since 2008.
According to the study, “Shared Sacrifices,” public education unions were responsible for some of the largest concessions, which saved local school districts almost $700 million during the 2010-11 school year alone. And since 2008, state employees have contributed $350 million in savings through wage freezes, furlough days and rising health care costs.
Over 65 percent of public employee contracts had at least a year of wage freezes, furlough days and saved employer expenses via reduced compensation or other means.
“In the past decade, all workers in Ohio have lost more ground on hourly wages compared to any other state,” the study reads. “Persistent unemployment has been accompanied by slow growth in the production of goods and services, banks tightening lending standards and rising prices for gasoline.”
Public employees hope this study will further debunk the anti-collective bargaining law.
“This report shows what we have known all along: Public employees are problem solvers,” said Mark Sanders, president of the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters, in a statement released by We Are Ohio. “Firefighters all across the state have been more than willing to come to the table and make sacrifices to help keep their local communities safe.”
“There is simply no evidence to suggest that the public workers who guard our prisons, ensure our food is safe, take care of the disabled, plow our roads and find the unemployed jobs are to blame for our economic problems,” said Christopher Mabe, a member of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association. “Today’s report shows the opposite to be true. Public workers have been more than willing to make the difficult choices and sacrifice during tough times.”
But those in favor of the law say concessions aren’t the issue. In a statement released by Building A Better Ohio, spokeswoman Connie Wehrkamp said, “We recognize that some government workers have agreed to modest concessions from time to time, but they represent a fraction of the savings that could be generated by the reasonable reforms of Issue 2 [the referendum question].
“In fact, some estimates indicate that Issue 2 would generate more than four times the savings claimed to be achieved in this union-backed report,” she continued.
Ohio public employee Doug Mosier wrote an op-ed in the Mansfield News Journal in an attempt to further call into question the claims made by Kasick and company.
“The claim that ‘government employees’ should pay 15 percent for their insurance is misleading. In fact, as a state worker, in my contract I already pay 15 percent, and we pay additional costs for our spouses,” wrote Mosier.
“Also, it was misleading in a recent article that was in the paper that a newly hired employee will make $67,000, including benefits. I believe it should have been: ‘On average, a Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections employee’ makes that, which includes the wardens, directors and overtime.
“That same contract shows that a new corrections officer starts at $34,008. I don’t think they get approximately $33,000 in benefits,” stated Mosier.