Anti-union law SB5 would cause Ohio veterans to lose out on benefits, protections

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Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 11:49 am

soldier at Fort BraggWhile Ohio’s Senate Bill 5, legislation approved in March that curbs collective-bargaining rights for public employees, has been viewed largely as an attack on teachers, firefighters and police officers, the legislation could also have major implications for Ohio’s veteran community.

The bill, which voters will have the chance to repeal on Nov. 8 via the veto referendum Issue 2, ends the long-running practice of allowing service members going into teaching to count some of their active-duty service towards classroom tenure. It could limit the ability of unions to negotiate for additional protections for their members that serve in the National Guard and Reserve.

“It’s a failure to acknowledge the service and commitment that many of us have had to go through. It’s a slap in the face is really what it is,” said Zach Roberts, the veterans outreach coordinator for We Are Ohio, a citizen-driven, community-based, bipartisan coalition that has come together to repeal SB5 by voting ‘no’ on Issue 2. “It’s not enough to support the soldier; you have to support the veteran, too. You don’t get half of us, you get all of us.”

Currently, veterans hired as public school teachers in Ohio can count every eight consecutive months of active duty military service towards one year of tenure in the classroom, for up to a maximum of five years. Doing so provides a minor bump in salary for veterans that go into the education field.

For some veterans, it can amount to up to $2,000 in annual salary, according to Roberts. The extra pay is designed to encourage veterans to enter the field and, for those who do, to level the playing field with their colleagues that had the opportunity to gain experience while servicemembers were active.

“They missed out on going into that career field because they were serving their country at that point. That’s really what it’s all about,” said Roberts. “Veterans Preference is really about nothing more than giving a veteran an equal opportunity.”

If SB5 is not repealed, that provision of existing Ohio law would be removed.

The legislation could also result in uncertainty for veterans in public service that are members of the National Guard or Reserves. By stripping public sector unions of most of their collective bargaining powers, those teachers, firefighters and police officers deployed overseas could have to worry about their families transitioning to a new health-care plan.

Prior to SB5, public sector unions could bargain for protections that allow those returning from duty to return to the exact position they left. The ability to negotiate such terms could be endangered by SB5.

“Health insurance is one of these things where you want consistency. You don’t want to have to switch up your doctors; you don’t want to have to change up anything that could complicate a treatment that a family member may be having,” said Roberts, who is both a veteran and member of the Ohio National Guard. “This provision is critical for that continuity and consistency and that’s not something that a union will be able to negotiate for in the future given the restrictions placed on the collective bargaining process.”

Paul Worley, who was recently honorably discharged from the Army after seven years of active duty that included two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, decided to volunteer for We Are Ohio after learning about the ways that SB5 could affect Ohio’s veterans.

Through his conversations with fellow veterans, he’s learned that few are aware of the impact the legislation could have on the community. When they do learn, they are not particularly happy, he said.

“You wouldn’t call it discriminatory towards veterans, but it definitely doesn’t put them in that higher echelon and give them an advantage,” Worley said. “We want veterans working these public sector jobs because they know what self-sacrifice is. They’ve seen things and done things and had training that the average citizen hasn’t.”

For Roberts, defeating SB5 is a matter of looking out for Ohio’s nearly 1 million-strong veteran community and the countless others that depend on them.

“Voting ‘no’ on Issue 2 protects Ohio’s veterans, military service members and their families. This law disrespects our experience, it dismisses what we have to offer to those in our communities,” he said. “People should be voting no on this to maintain the protections that we have in place for National Guard members and Reservists and to maintain the opportunity that it provides veterans to be able to move into public service.”

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