There is a common perception that many employees in the public sector enjoy wages and benefits higher than those paid for comparable jobs in the private sector. Regardless of how accurate that perception is, there is no question that the budgets of government employers around the State and around the country are stretched now to a critical level and that often, wages and benefits are the greatest expenditures straining those budgets.
Governor-Elect Kasich has taken aim at public-sector unions and the Ohio Public Employee Collective Bargaining law, identifying them as two of the reasons that government entities are in an economic crisis. Kasich has been very vocal in his attacks on the collective bargaining law and has promised to support efforts to eliminate binding arbitration for safety forces and to prevent all public employees from striking. Under the 1983 Ohio Public Employee Collective Bargaining law, government employees have the right to collective bargaining and union representation. If negotiations for a labor contract covering safety forces, such as police and firefighters reach impasse, the dispute is sent to binding arbitration. Because they have that right to binding arbitration, police, firefighters and other safety and emergency personnel do not have the right to go on strike. If bargaining concerning non-safety or emergency personnel reaches impasse, the dispute is heard by a neutral fact-finder, but that person’s decision is not binding. If the negotiations remain at a stalemate after fact-finding, those employees have the right to strike. Kasich argues that binding arbitration takes the decision regarding wages, benefits, and other working conditions away from elected officials and the citizens they represent. He argues also that no public employee should have the right to strike.
Other frustrated government officials have raised concerns about the public-sector bargaining system. For example, the Middletown City Council recently considered, but then tabled, a resolution to the Ohio General Assembly asking for review of the public sector collective bargaining law. In a novel lawsuit filed in October, the City of Akron sued the Fraternal Order of Police in an effort to undue the Akron/F.O.P. labor contract covering city police officers. The City Council argued that the City Administration and the FOP agreed to the contract without sufficient input from City Council.
Organized labor will fight vigorously to preserve collective bargaining for public-sector employees. Unions that typically represent police officers and firefighters will be especially aggressive in the political arena. Public employers should follow the debate closely because if the Governor-Elect has his way, there could be dramatic changes in the bargaining relationships with public sector employees.