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Monday, February 21st, 2011

Unions upset with bill

By Amy Kronenberger

Celina Education Association co-president Kim Lammers, a middle school health te. . .

Local school superintendents are showing support for Ohio Senate Bill 5, saying it will help in these tough financial times. However, teachers' unions fear the bill will hurt the schools and drive away quality teachers.
If passed, the bill would eliminate collective bargaining rights for state employees, weaken the binding arbitration rights of police and firefighters, allow administrations to promote or fire employees based on merit instead of seniority, eliminate automatic pay increases and eliminate automatic number of sick days. Ultimately, it overturns the 1983 law creating collective bargaining.
The bill, introduced Feb. 1, is going through committee review in Columbus. Last week, proponents and supporters flooded the statehouse for rallies and hearings on the measure.
Celina City Schools Superintendent Matt Miller likes the education portion of the bill, saying it would allow the school to cut employees based on merit when forced to do a reduction of force.
Under the current union agreements, a school would have to cut according to seniority; and sometimes the youngest teachers are the most enthusiastic and have the latest teaching techniques fresh out of college, Miller said.
"The bill is good for Celina because we will be forced to do a reduction for next year," he said.
Celina schools is expecting a $4 million deficit by 2013 and that does not include state funding cuts to come. Some predict cuts to be more than 10 percent.
Celina is not alone. Almost all other area schools are bracing for funding cuts. Coldwater schools Superintendent Richard Seas accompanied Miller to Senate hearings last week and presented his testimony.
"How do I govern under the umbrella of a master agreement and a union?" Seas said in his testimony. "If we, as a school, as a state and as a nation, are going to remain competitive, I need to be able to exercise management rights so that performance, not seniority, is rewarded."
During his career, Seas worked as a science teacher, coach, bus driver, assistant principal, principal and superintendent and was never a member of a union.
"I can honestly say master agreements, collective bargaining, paying my dues meant nothing to me," he said.
When Seas became superintendent at Coldwater, he participated in traditional bargaining with the Coldwater Teachers Organization and called the experience "painful." Through the bargaining, he learned about "fair share." Seas said fair share was a mandatory payment forced on the employees who didn't want to join the union.
"To me, it seemed almost un-American that a person in this day and age had to either join the union or pay not to join," he said.
"Unions or no unions, collective bargaining or no collective bargaining, my job as Coldwater superintendent is to make sure our students are well educated and prepared upon leaving our school system," Seas continued. "Giving me less funding and asking me to improve performance while essentially limiting my management rights is simply not obtainable."
Some union members, however, do not feel the bill will help improve schools.
Celina Education Association co-presidents Kim Lammers and Kay Klopfleisch made a joint statement saying they are very concerned about the impact the bill could have on the students, community and state.
"Senate Bill 5 proposes removing the right to bargain for healthcare and salaries, and requires teachers to be paid under a merit pay system that has not even been developed yet," they said. "Many effective teachers may decide to leave the profession, and young teachers may decide to take jobs in the private sector, where salaries are better. This could devastate our schools."
Lammers and Klopfleisch said the bill could take jobs away from Ohio, instead of creating jobs, which the governor says is his goal.
Celina City Schools bus driver and aide Carol Henderson, who is president of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, also feels the bill would have a negative impact on schools.
"It'll hurt because we need quality teachers for students. If you take away the merit pay and sick days, we won't get quality teachers, bus drivers and cafeteria workers," she said.
Coldwater Spanish teacher Sophia Rodriguez said the bill is about eliminating jobs, which decreases local spending and ultimately hurts local small businesses.
"It's a chain reaction," she said.
Rodriguez is asking residents to consider how the bill will affect local communities.
"Your local leaders are all talking about what this bill will do for the state, but what they aren't talking about is what it will really do to our local communities," she said. "Sometimes, we don't look at the bigger picture of the bill."
Emotions are running high on both sides as protesters and supporters are asking residents to call their congressman.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, the bill is currently under review with the Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor committee. Sen. Kevin Bacon, R-Minerva Park, chairman of the committee, said the bill will have a hearing sometime next week but that a vote is doubtful. Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, is vice chairman of the committee.
The Dispatch said if the bill passes, it would directly affect about 42,000 state workers and more than 19,500 others employed in higher education. The bill would also impact nearly 300,000 employees in local government.

Bill highlights:
According to the State of Ohio website, Senate Bill 5 will:
• Abolish all collective bargaining rights of employees of the state, of any agency, authority, commission, or board of the state and of any state institution of higher education.
• Weaken the right of police and firefighters to binding arbitration, which allows deadlocked parties to bring in a third party.
• Remove a provision which allows public school employees to collectively bargain for health care. Instead, management will pick insurance policies, and employees must cover at least 20 percent of the cost.
• Allow local governments to hire permanent replacement workers during a strike.
• Authorize public employees to refuse any representation by an exclusive representation or an employee organization.
• Eliminate from state law automatic pay increases. Increases will be given based on merit.
• Eliminate from state law leave policies and automatic 15 sick days for teachers.
• No longer make longevity a deciding factor when management is deciding to make layoffs. The decision will be based on merit.
• Prohibit a school district from entering into a collective bargaining agreement for specific things, such as establishing a maximum number of students per classroom.
• Require schools to comply with all applicable state or local laws or ordinances regarding wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment.
• Require the negotiating parties to take into consideration the financial   status of the public employer at the time of negotiations.
• Prohibit the parties from basing the ability of an employer to pay for terms on potential future funding increases, including passage of a levy or bond issue.
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