The Senate Republicans decided to put a little lipstick on the pig that is SB 5.
This afternoon Senate President Tom Niehaus (R-New Richmond) and Senate Insurance, Labor and Commerce Chair Kevin Bacon (R-Footloose) announced the GOP’s “revisions” to Senate Bill 5.
First, the good news. The new SB 5 does not eliminate the right of State employees to collectively bargain.
This makes Senate Bill 5 take a radical departure from the bill in Wisconsin on a major issue.
However, the right to collectively bargain at both the State and local level will only be on wages only. No right to bargain regarding health benefits, leave policies (ironically including the Republican favored “flex time” policies) workplace conditions, or any other benefits.
Furthermore, under the new SB 5, all public employee union members are barred from striking. Niehaus said that disputes will no longer be resolved by binding arbitration, but they admit they are still trying to figure out how exactly such disputes can be resolved without binding arbitration. They also haven’t figured out the penalty for public employees who strike illegally. So it literally could be anything from allowing replacement workers as SB 5 originally provided or docking pay at twice the daily wages as Senator Grendell has suggested.
The press gaggle was called after Niehaus, Bacon, and SB 5’s sponsor Senate Majority Whip Shannon Jones (R-Springboro) met privately to discuss the bill. For some reason, Jones, though, did not appear or participate in the press gaggle. Also noticeably absent was any talk of “merit pay.” I am assuming, but we will have to wait and see the language, that step increases are acceptable terms since they would appear to be a wage issue.
Another note from the press gaggle we received seemed to indicate a comment was made that for non-state public unions the only change would be the bar on the right to strike. Given that public safety union workers like the police and firefighters already cannot strike under existing law, this seems to affect only teachers.
Bacon and Niehaus were asked, but flatly denied, that these changes were made to win votes within their caucus. They claimed that they were listening to and responding to the testimony. Apparently they should use their taxpayer provided health insurance and get their hearing checked…
The Toledo Blade (“Ohio Senate Republicans retreat on collective bargaining”) is reporting that Niehaus specifically said that only State workers would be unable to resolve labor disputes by binding arbitration.
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the bill is being amended to accommodate the wishes of Governor Kasich (Mr. 30% Approval Rating):
Niehaus acknowledged that the changes were to accommodate the wishes of Republican Gov. John Kasich, who has on several occasions declared that any public employee who goes on strike should be fired.
"I think our changes to the bill reflect what he’s said publicly," said Niehaus.
So that would seem to indicate that “hiring replacement workers” (“scabs”) is still going to be the bill’s remedy to any public union worker who strikes.
Bacon also seemed to hold out the possibility of carving out the entire public safety unions entirely from SB 5.
Ohio Democrats, who only learned of the changes via the media, were not impressed, according to the Plain Dealer:
"To me, it seems like window dressing," Senate Minority Leader Capri Cafaro, a Democrat from the Youngstown area, said. "At this point, I’m less than impressed with what’s offered."
Cafaro said Senate Democrats were not involved in negotiations that led to the changes. She said the process should be more transparent and collaborative.
"I have no idea what stakeholders they’ve engaged in this," she said.
We’re awaiting further official reaction from the unions and anyone else on this. Frankly, I’m not entirely sure if these changes are going to win them the votes they need.