Tuesday, October 18, 2011

State employee still supports Issue 2

To hear and read the propaganda swirling around this issue, one would think my headline would appear in a newspaper -- because public employees appear to be a monolithic bloc standing against the issue to limit collective bargaining rights. The bill this issue seeks to repeal (SB 5) is not perfect, as I wrote March 31 when the General Assembly sent it to Governor Kasich, but I still favor its passage.

Both sides distort the truth. Proponents allegedly use actors and Republican Party operatives to portray public employees in support; but opponents are laying on the emotion very thickly when they argue, "SB 5 hurts us all."
Here are some of the Ohio County and State Employees Association's arguments against Issue 2, as documented in their Public Employee Quarterly for Fall 2011 (not online):
·       Issue 2 is unfair because "OCSEA members have sacrificed over $350 million in pay cuts and health care concessions, while politicians have taken a pass." The article notes that Gov. Kasich is paid $10,000 more than was Gov. Strickland, but Gov. Kasich could not have received that "hefty pay increase" without the approval of the prior legislature, one house of which was Democratic. The fact that elected officials and their immediate staffs are not covered by Issue 2 really means that Issue 2 does not go far enough.

·       State employees worked 20 days without pay in the last two years, paid more into their health care, and had steps and personal leave frozen. Also true. But it isn't as though private enterprise employees have had a free pass the last few years. And frankly, our health care is exceptionally good and exceptionally economical. Step increases make no rational sense from a business perspective. We also have much more vacation time than most private-sector employees, so I do not buy into the personal leave argument. This is a bill to help state and local governments balance their budgets. They will not balance as long as they are forced to pay exorbitant payroll costs, including for a lot of time that is not worked. It is also unfair to expect Ohio's working taxpayers to foot the bill for employees who are substantially more privileged than they are, even though we appear to be comparably paid.

·       Collective bargaining will be taken away. Partially true. Unions will still be able to negotiate wages and salaries, but not working conditions. This is a legitimate concern for safety workers, especially corrections guards – and is something that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

·       "Public employees deserve democracy and a voice in the workplace. This is exactly what we're fighting for overseas and why I am volunteering [in the campaign to oppose Issue 2]." I would like to see the private corporation (other than the few that are employee-owned) that gives its employees "democracy in the workplace." The reservist who made this comment needs a reality check. The best-run companies give their employees a voice in the workplace, but not a controlling one.

·         "If we do not repeal SB 5 by voting NO on Issue 2, who's to stop state government from reverting back to the days of cronyism when merit was based on skin color, sex, political affiliation, and everything in between." Or on loyalty to the unions or bribery? To some extent, these concerns are addressed by civil rights laws. Beyond that, the best way to ensure fairness is to build a free and open market for labor and to encourage entrepreneurship for minorities and women. If we consider it human nature for like to employ like, then spreading around the opportunity to create new business will ensure that more of us will have a fair opportunity to get jobs and promotions.
An investigation by the Columbus Dispatch into Issue 2 reveals very little about the likely impact the bill will have on state employees or the taxpayers. There simply are too many variables.
However, we cannot go on the way we have. State government without reform is not sustainable on the long run, even if we increase taxes to pay for what we have. There are legitimate concerns about Issue 2, as I expressed last March, to which I would add one expressed recently that teachers' merit pay would be tied to academic test scores, which would make one of public education's most glaring flaws even worse. Again, the bill needs amendment.
However, at the end of the day, I continue to support Issue 2 for the same reasons that the Cleveland Plain Dealer did when the newspaper endorsed it yesterday:*
.. Ohio desperately needs to control the costs of government at all levels. It needs to send a clear message that the old, familiar ways of doing the public's business have to change.

In schools, the emphasis has to be on the progress of children, not the comfort of adults. In city halls and county offices, the impact on those who pay the bills -- and the sheer magnitude of those bills -- must be paramount…

Imperfect though it may be, Issue 2 will give local governments and school districts more tools to control labor costs and protect taxpayers. It requires public employees to make the same kind of contributions toward their health and pension benefits that most private-sector workers do. It ends state-mandated wage step-ups, requires performance-based pay and permits layoffs based on more than seniority. Those factors are especially important to school districts such as Cleveland that need to transform themselves in the face of outmoded state rules that force them to toss aside newer -- and perhaps better -- teachers when money is tight…

Polls consistently show that Ohioans like many aspects of Senate Bill 5, but not the nasty tone behind it. When this campaign ends, Kasich has a chance to be a healer. He must not pass it up.

Nor should Ohio pass up this opportunity to break with an unsustainable status quo. Yes, change is scary. But look around: Not changing is even scarier.

When they mark their ballots, Ohioans cannot worry about what is best for any political party or interest group -- on either side of this debate. They need to consider what's best for the future of their children, their communities, their state.

They need to pass Issue 2.

Update Oct. 18: The Columbus Dispatch reports on the concessions that public employee unions have made to state government since 2008. In my experience, the facts reported are correct; but reciting them misses the point -- it is still unfair to expect taxpayers, many of whom are un- or underemployed, to support public employees to a greater extent than other working Ohioans are supported by private enterprise.
* The Columbus Dispatch endorsed Issue 2 on Monday.

No comments: