Thursday, March 31, 2011

Why union members should love S.B.5 seniority provision

Yesterday the House passed Senate Bill 5, the collective bargaining bill, and shortly thereafter their version received approval in the Senate. The bill now sits on Gov. John Kasich's desk awaiting his signature.

One of the provisions in the bill deals with layoffs and seniority and contains language (in multiple places) stating:

When a reduction in force is necessary, the (governmental entity) shall not use an employee's length of service as the only factor to determine whether to lay off the employee.

This means that all public sector union employees will first be judged on their performance and value to an organization - not how long they've been employed - and if you're a newer employee who does a good job, you have a better chance of keeping your job now that S.B. 5 has passed.

Quite some time ago, as host of WSPD's Eye On Toledo show, I interviewed Toledo Police Patrolman's Association President Dan Wagner during a time when the city was considering laying off police. The city was asking for cuts and the TPPA was opposing them. I asked him: if it came down to layoffs for some of his members versus an across-the-board cut, which would his members choose? His reply was probably one of the most honest statements ever made by a union president: "Sadly, I think they'd choose the layoffs."

This, to me, goes against the entire 'one-for-all' attitude that I thought unions were supposed to embrace. They certainly tout the 'collective' nature of their organization and relationship, until it comes to certain issues like layoffs versus cuts. In the end, the people in the union who 'have' will sacrifice the newer members in order to keep what they've got. Dan told me later he knew I'd never let him forget that statement, but it's nothing he should be sorry for saying - though he might be sorry his members thought that way.

But with the passage of S.B. 5, that issue goes away. Now, public employees don't have to worry about how long they've been employed; they only have to worry about their performance and their value to the city. This, alone, is reason enough for union members to love S.B. 5.

The consequence of this change in decision-making cannot be overlooked. Without the guarantee of seniority, unions may find their members are more willing to consider across-the-board cuts than they were in the past. If the older members have no assurances that they will keep their jobs, they'll be less confident in risking actual layoffs, making them more amenable to other solutions such as concessions and cuts.

This is good for the taxpayer and it removes the ever-present gamesmanship of politicians who always threaten the most untenable of layoffs (in police and fire) when they face budgetary decisions they don't want to make or when they have tax increases on the ballot they want to pass.

Additionally, S.B. 5 makes the layoff process easier for cities. Since most unions have 'bumping' rights (a data entry person laid off, for example, in the police records bureau, has the right to 'bump' a less-senior person in the data entry section of the tax department), cities will no longer have to worry about the musical chairs and the headaches of such a process.

But this issue isn't final - yet. Democrats and unions are already mobilizing to take the matter to the voters by putting the law on the ballot as a referendum. They've got plenty of time to organize their supporters, but I don't know that they'll find much success on election day.

The state switched from Democrat control to Republican during the last election despite the spending by unions. The people in office now were put there with the expectation that they would address the out-of-control spending and the huge unfunded obligations the states have. A majority spoke last November and they're not likely to change their minds so quickly, especially if the state office holders continue to do what they were elected to do.

And not all union members are Democrats. I know, that's a hard fact to comprehend in light of the perception union leaders and Democrats advance, but it's true. And even some of the union members who are Democrats are not always in favor of the way their unions operate - especially if they're the new member who was at risk of losing their job simply because of a calendar.

While I won't underestimate the ability to get the matter on the ballot - or the mobilization of their supporters - I don't believe the unions have the support of the majority of Ohioans in this regard, otherwise, we wouldn't have the bill in the first place.


Kadim said...

I haven't gotten a handle on what people think about SB 5 yet (though I read about a poll showing that a majority were against SB 5, but it's very early and I think most people don't understand the issue yet.)

I think it will become down to the quality and effectiveness of the campaigns. I fear that the pro-SB 5 side will have a campaign that's too dark and heavy handed and that will make the anti SB 5 side seem like "the good guys." I also think the pro SB 5 side needs to make the case more of how the changes fit into a long run change for Ohio government, particularly at the local level.

Right now my thought is that the anti-SB 5 side has the advantage, not because people are more sympathetic with the unions, but because they will vote for status quo over change.

Maggie Thurber said...

Kadim - one of my Facebook friends made the comment that the anti-SB5 groups (primarily the unions) will have the wherewithal to put money into a referendum campaign. What group on the pro-SB5 side will organize a campaign (structure, money, ads, etc...) to counter what the unions will spend?

I fear he is correct and that presents a problem for people who support SB5.

Lance said...

I think your assertion that union members, specifically police should love SB5 for the seniority provisions, is kind of incorrect, or at least kind of narrow-minded. Allow me to explain.

I am a union member with about 20 years in a police department. I am also a high ranking officer in my department. I am also a registered republican of 20+ years.

What measure will be used then to determine my value to the agency? I have good evaluations, very active, very involved, and very proactive. I have a good rapport with the community. However, I do have a tendency to speak my mind and call a spade a spade.

I do not produce a product. I am not measured by piece rate, or by measurable efficacy.

Let's say for the sake of argument, that I find or initiate a criminal investigation of my mayor, based on a complaint. And let's say that I close the investigation without charges, but I do great diligence to investigate the complaint and perhaps it brings into question my mayor's honesty or integrity.

The city is now faced with layoffs. I earn higher pay than a new officer and I have 20 years of seniority. I did nothing but my job, but have brought to light something that perhaps tarnishes the mayor's reputation. Who do you think, from a politician's standpoint is going to be laid off? SB5 strips many many protections that I had and needed to do my job. Protections of contract essentially allows me to actually fight corruption or whistleblow without fear of repercussion.

The other thing that bothers me is that I keep hearing how this will impact budgets and create jobs. Please explain both. My city is financially solvent, balances it's budget and lives well within it's means. We negotiate fairly at the bargaining table and have repeatedly made concessions in good faith, including a recent contract where we opted to keep current healthcare coverage and forgo raises. Now, I get neither.

How does impacting my bottom line in my city balance the state budget? Answer: It doesn't.

Thank you.

Maggie Thurber said...

Lance - having been an elected official and having seen how others abuse the power of their positions, I can tell you that no contract can protect you from political reprisals. If an elected official wants to get rid of you, they will and, too often, the union is complicit in protecting the elected official. There are more examples of that happening than there are of ones like you describe.

However, you point about political reprisals is well-taken. I just happen to believe it will occur no matter what the collective bargaining law in Ohio is. You can call me cynical, but I've seen it happen (though I took special care to not do so and put into place processes to prevent it) - and I'm sure you have as well.

The bottom line is that no union contract can protect you from everything, just as you, as a police officer (and I thank you for your service), cannot protect the public from everything bad. Often, the best you can do is address the situation after the fact. I think this law is similar in that regard.

Don't get me wrong, here - there are certainly aspects of SB5 that I don't like and others that I am unsure of. I would have preferred the financial aspects to be included in the state's budget bill rather than this one, for example. So I cannot answer your question (at least, not to your or my satisfaction) about the cost savings.

As for your specific situation, I'm glad you're in an area that that has paid attention to its financials and that you're in a union with an administration that clearly values and understands the idea of compromise and negotiation. It's my understanding that you'll continue to have such a relationship in terms of wages, but one of my concerns (not yet addressed) is how SB5 and Obamacare interact. I've heard some elected officials say that a certain level of cost increase in that area could eliminate their grandfather clause on implementation. This is something that I don't think many people understand - and might not for a long time.

But I'll stand by my position that using seniority solely as the determiner for layoffs is something everyone (including union members) should appreciate.

Kadim said...

Maggie--I've thought about that issue before. I came to the conclusion that the money will come. It's an important enough issue for both sides. I further believe that a lot of money will come from out of state, as it may be seen as a way of weakening the unions.

On the flip side, unions will have ground support and volunteers in a very impressive way, which I don't think will come readily to the pro SB5 side.

Expecting that Ohio will be the only or maybe only one of two states with a similar referendum on the ballot, I believe we might be looking at a combined $30-$40 million dollar ballot war. Quite unprecedented.

j_cogan said...

This bill isn't about senority during layoffs, etc. It is an attempt to crush unions, to blame them for Oh's problems. The public employees are being used as scapegoats. The GOP wants to take money from middle class workers and give it to business that paid to get them elected. Studies show that when you do an apple to apple comparison between public and private employees that private employees make more money, total compensation, on average then public employees! That is fact. Public employees get better benefits but when compared to private workers with bachelors, masters and phds their pay is lower. So the benefits that sb5 is taking away will now lower college educated public workers even more behind their counterparts in private sector. Not to mention the attacks on teachers in this bill. It is ridiculous. Teachers today are the most educated they have ever been. The idea that kids aren't passing these standarized tests and putting that totally on teachers completely is disengenous. Teachers can only teach children who want to learn. Children whose parents don't value education, who have unsafe homes, etc. will not learn as much as children who are supported and expected to respect teachers no matter who is at the front of the classroom. Do you think the best people will want to work in the inner cities when their pay and jobs will be cut if they can't get every kid to pass these tests? We will lose valuable teachers in Oh with this bill. People are angry and scared and they want people to blame so the GOP has figured out let's blame teachers and other middle class public workers. That way the public won't be looking at the true culprits of the terrible state of our economy-the businesses that are so greedy that they cut and cut pay and benefits for the workers and take jobs out of America so they can keep more and more of the profits for themselves at the same time not even paying their fair share in taxes! That is what's happening here. Let's not kid ourselves please.

Maggie Thurber said...


First, I didn't say the bill was ONLY about seniority during layoffs, just that that was one item unions members should like rather than oppose...except, of course, if you're a union member who isn't very good at your job but you've got a ton of seniority.

And public employees are not being 'used as scapegoats to take money from middle class workers and give it to business.' Will you please stop regurgitating the talking points of the unions and actually think about what you said?

If you make more than about $65,000, you're in the top 25% of wage earners in the United States (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). A LOT of unionized public sector workers are in that pay range, making them 'rich' and NOT middle class.

You say that 'studies show'... well, for every study you can produce showing public sector employees don't make as much as the private sector, I can show you two that says they do. In fact, the studies I've seen actually compare positions and not just 'employment.'

And there is nothing in the bill that says wages will decrease - that's an illogical assumption and 'spin' coming from the unions. The bill preserves the ability to negotiate for wages. The main issue relating today to public sector wages is the financial conditions of the cities, in that many of them are broke and just don't have the money (nor the ability to get more from taxpayers) to pay the wages they're paying. In the private sector, the companies respond accordingly to such situations - in Toledo, our unions are getting pay increases this year - and the overtime some of the earned LAST year is being paid out THIS year at their higher wage. No private company would ever do that. It's illogical and doesn't solve a budget deficit problem.


Maggie Thurber said...

to continue:

Teachers are more educated than they've been in the past, but obviously, that means very little to the educational standard we're getting from our public schools. There is certainly a LOT wrong with public education and SB5 isn't going to solve the entire problem. But saying that SB5 makes the educational system even worse certainly is not valid either. If you cared about the kids - and not the SYSTEM - you'd support a method of educational funding that gave the kid the money and let them choose their place of schooling. Oh - but unions hate choice in education as well...wonder why they're so afraid of allowing parents to choose a school for their children? Could it be, perhaps, because many parents wouldn't choose the union-dominated, poorly-scoring neighborhood public schools?

And just because some parents don't value education doesn't mean that make all children suffer in failing schools as a result - chew on that piece of logic... it's the same as saying "a building is on fire and I can save 12 of the 50 people in it, but because I can't save them all, I'll let them all die." That's what unions are saying about school choice. Again, it's illogical and has so little to do with SB5 that your argument in favor of teachers getting even more benefits at the public's expense is moot.

We're not going to lose valuable teachers in Ohio as a result of SB5 any more than we're going to lose valuable police officers, fire fighters or sanitation workers. In fact, my point in the article about layoffs versus maintaining unsustainable levels of pay is even more valid in light of your supposition. If union members know that their seniority isn't the determining factor for layoffs, perhaps the unions will be more willing to agree to other concessions, resulting in the public (as in TAXPAYERS) not losing staffing in critical areas of public service. Your claim about losing valuable people is rendered moot by the removal of seniority as the ONLY determining factor. I'm glad we agree that that point is critical and good for the people who pay the wages of the public employees.


Maggie Thurber said...

to continue:

Lastly, it's not just the GOP who is blaming public sector unions for the public sector financial problems. It's OHIOANS - a majority of who changed the political orientation of the state office holders with the hope that the unchecked spending will stop. (Note - I didn't say ALL spending, as I'm LIMITED government, not ANTI-government.) The only people who are scared and angry are SOME (not all) public sector union members who realize that their gravy train has reached the end of the line.

And stop with the whole 'evil, greedy corporations'...that argument is so stale and invalid it's almost laughable. There is nothing so 'greedy' as government these days. It takes and takes and takes, with public sector unions demanding more and more and elected officials, greedy for campaign donations, acting in complicity to give in to their demands and reap the 'benefits' of the union dues and workers which then go into their re-election campaigns. Not all corporations are 'bad' but not all public sector unions are 'good.' In fact, structurally, they're identical in both goals and methods. You cannot blame one without also blaming the other, otherwise you're a hypocrite.

And since you raised the issue, what, exactly, is a fair share of taxes? I'm so completely and totally sick of hearing that phrase. The politicians unions support create the laws that gave those corporations the breaks, loopholes, carve-outs, etc... that allow them to pay less in taxes. So the corporations are only following the law. If YOU can take a deduction on your taxes, don't you? Or do you say - no...let me pay more? And those same politicians and organizations who bemoan the fact that businesses take deductions allowed to them actually promote individuals NOT paying taxes by pushing them to use the EITC provision. Such a blatant double standard in action that it's unbelievable.

And, before you go off on taxes, people earning $65,000 or more pay 86% of the tax burden today. How much more is "fair"???? In fact, any objective look at that government figure would say that is EXTREMELY unfair for the top 25% of wage earners to pay 86% of the burden. If you want fair, then you'd better be prepared to be consistent in fairness, otherwise, you're - again - a hypocrite.

Finally, a note to you as a poster...On my blog I expect original thought from people who want to comment. I appreciate an alternative viewpoint and am happy and willing to discuss issues relative the posts I make. However, tossing out a bunch of union talking points without any content to back it up is really not thoughtful debate. My blog - my rules. Please make sure any further posts comply.


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