Unions point to Toledo workers’ concessions as proof state anti-collective-bargaining law unnecessary
This month, Toledo’s largest public employee union agreed to a deal with the city that cost them around $3 million dollars in concessions; union leaders say it’s proof positive that the state’s existing collective-bargaining law works just fine, while supporters of the restructured deal credit the threat of a contentious anti-collective-bargaining law escaping a Nov. 8 veto referendum.
Senate Bill 5, a law passed in March, reduces public employees’ rights to collectively bargain and ends the practice of binding arbitration, giving municipal governments the final say in deals. It will go before voters via Issue 2 next month.
Toledo’s city council unanimously approved the “emergency measure” on October 11, and the union members ratified it the next day.
The employees in question, members of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 7, signed on to an agreement mandating workers pay three times their current contribution for medical insurance, and picking up most of their share of payment towards their pensions. According to the Toledo Blade, “That translates to between 15 percent and 21 percent of their medical-coverage premium contributions, as calculated by the city. Workers’ emergency room co-pays would also increase, to $100 from $65.”
SB5 would require all public employees pay their share of their pensions, 10 percent; management’s required share is 14 percent.
Pension pick-up, a compensatory tactic where management offers to pay some or all of its employees’ shares of pension payments, is commonly offered in lieu of a wage increase,
which is more costly, due to overtime and payroll taxes. The practice would be outlawed by SB5, but opponents of the law say pension pick-up affords management a valuable bargaining chip.
Toledo’s Mayor Mike Bell has worked to get rid of pension pick-up since he was elected last year. A former firefighter, Bell is a champion of the controversial state legislation — in fact, he is the only mayor of a major city in Ohio who supports it. Pension pick-up is currently a part of every public employee’s compensation in Toledo, which is also facing a $48 million deficit. Bell’s deputy mayor, Steven Herwat, has claimed employee pensions caused the city to forego road repairs this year.
Bell credited the specter of Issue 2 with the success of the recent negotiations with AFSCME Local 7.
“There’s got to be an adverse impasse for them to be willing to come to the table,” he told the Toledo Blade.
Opponents in Toledo say the successful negotiations show that SB5 is unnecessary, and demonstrate union members’ willingness to dicker in hard times.
Interestingly, Issue 2 has always fared poorly in public polls, the most recent showing the issue seemingly doomed. A “NO” vote on Issue 2 blocks SB5.
Supporters of SB5 say it’s “reasonable” for workers to pay for their share of the pension. The website for the pro-Issue 2 campaign, BetterOhio.org, claims, “In this economy, it’s simply not right to ask struggling taxpayers to foot the bill so government employees can get a free retirement.” The website doesn’t mention the practice often saves municipalities given the pick-up is offered in lieu of salary increases.
Other AFSCME members working for the Toledo Public Schools system agreed to a similar deal in August, accepting a 2.5-percent pay cut and paying more for health insurance premiums.
Union staffers pointed to the schools deal as further evidence that collective bargaining works. Ohio’s collective bargaining law, which was enacted in 1984, provides sufficient flexibility for local municipalities to negotiate terms that are fair to both parties, say opponents of SB5.
The school deal reduced costs to the district by over $65 million over the next two years.
“By overwhelmingly ratifying this contract, Toledo Public Schools’ AFSCME members provide further proof that Senate Bill 5 is not needed,” Dave Blyth, Jr. told the Toledo Blade.
A union-led petition drive gathered 1.3 million signatures over the summer to force SB5 to go before voters on Nov. 8.