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Key aspect of Ohio’s anti-labor law SB5 gives public employers great leeway in defining rules, regulations

A key provision of Ohio’s anti-collective-bargaining law, Senate Bill 5, is that public employers have the right to make (PDF) “any and all reasonable rules and regulations.” But what is reasonable to an employer may not be reasonable to a firefighter, as public-employee unions have argued in their fight to defeat SB5 via the veto referendum Issue 2 that goes before voters on Nov. 8.

A television ad from Columbus-based progressive think tank, Progress Ohio, highlighted footage from an actual meeting of the Xenia (Ohio) City Council, in which council members question the city fire chief’s request for $13,755 worth of “turn-out gear” (the protective outer-garments worn by all firefighters that include helmet, boots, heat- and fire-resistant trousers and an oxygen supply) for seven firefighters.

The council members’ responses range from incredulity to accusatory.

“I have a hard time believing that the gear needs to replaced every five years; that’s just my opinion,” says one in the video.

Another points out that firefighting is “one of the only occupations I know of that you aren’t responsible for absolutely anything.” He added, “Maybe a fireman should have to buy his own turn-out gear.”

Another member of the council highlighted a dangerous conflict between safety needs and political expedience, arguing, “it’s my opinion that we wait on this expenditure until after the election.”

When the chief argued the suits were as critical to a firefighter’s survival a police officer’s bulletproof vest, a member of the council pointed out that police officers in the city supplied their own bulletproof vests. (They don’t.) Another council member corrected him, and he responded, “Maybe that’s something else that we need to fix.”

Liberal commentator Ed Schultz aired the spot on his MSNBC television show, Ed TV, on Oct. 24. His guest was Mark Sanders, the president of Ohio’s Association of Professional Firefighters. Firefighters trust the collective bargaining process as it stands now, Sanders said, but if Issue 2 passes Tuesday, “you see what might happen all across Ohio, as those who might not be equipped to make those decisions will be making those decisions in the end.”

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