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If SB5 remains to nullify collective-bargaining law, will Ohio go back to wildcat strikes, work stoppages?

If Ohio voters do not reject Senate Bill 5 today in a statewide referendum, it would probably be prudent to acquaint themselves with terms such as “blue flu” and “wildcat strike.”

If the law is not repealed through Issue 2, it could take the state back to a time when labor relations in the public sector were particularly sour, and the delivery of government services was often disrupted due to work stoppages.

Ohio public-sector workers did not win the right to collective bargain until 1983. Prior to that, it was illegal for public employees to engage in strikes or work stoppages.

However, that certainly didn’t stop them from fighting for what they felt was right. Prior to collective bargaining, it was not uncommon for police officers in a municipality to call off sick en masse or teachers to walk an illegal picket line.

Under federal law, employers had the right to fire their striking public-sector employees if they did not return to work within 24 hours. However, that was an entirely unrealistic option.

“You think that would conclude strikes in Ohio. But, depending on the year, we ranked second or third in the nation in the number of strikes which were illegal,” said former state Sen. Eugene Branstool, a sponsor of the 1983 collective-bargaining law that SB5 could replace.

“The mayor can’t just fire all the firefighters. The superintendent can’t just fire all the teachers. It’s just impossible.”

Knowing their employers had little recourse in the face of a work stoppage, public employees in Ohio would frequently shut down public service in order to bring attention to working conditions.

“It was unharmonious,” Branstool said. “But they had no way to resolve differences, no way to have their concerns heard. When people are pushed into a corner, they do what they have to do.”

From 1978 through 1980, Ohio averaged 61 public strikes each year.

In the early 1980s, the city of Newark, Ohio, virtually shut down because almost every one of its employees was engaged in some form of work stoppage.

“Really every public employee in the city was down, whether it was teachers, firefighters, police. The city was hard hit,” said former state Rep. Mark Guthrie, another co-sponsor of the original collective-bargaining law. “Newark wasn’t alone. There were strikes all over the state.”

Under Ohio’s current collective-bargaining law, strikes among certain public employees are still illegal. But there are tools to resolve differences between employers and employees, namely binding arbitration. SB5 would end the practice of third-party binding arbitration, instead allowing management to implement their last offer if negotiations reach an impasse.

After the collective bargain law was passed in 1983, public-sector strikes have become almost non-existent. In the past three years, Ohio has had a total of just five public-sector strikes.

To Branstool, the lack of public-sector strikes in the years since the law was passed is proof that it has worked well.

“We practically eliminated strikes. Thousands of agreements these last 27 years have been worked on,” he said. “Not one word has been changed in 27 years. All these previous administrations, Democrat, Republican, nobody laid a hand on it because it was working.”

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