The Ohio House of Representatives passed late Wednesday afternoon an amended version of Senate Bill 5, the hotly contested collective bargaining reform measure that would apply to more than 350,000 state and local government workers, including police, firefighters and teachers. The Republican-controlled House voted 53-44 to pass the bill after making more than a dozen substantive changes to the legislation approved by the Senate earlier this month by a 17-16 vote. The Senate voted late Wednesday to approve the House changes, again by a 17-16 vote.
The original version of the bill would allow Ohio government workers to bargain over wages and certain work conditions but not over topics such as health care, sick time or pension benefits; require employees to pay at least 15 percent of health insurance costs; replace automatic pay raises with future wage increases based on merit; abolish the right to strike for all public employees; and replace existing law on work stoppages and binding arbitration with a progressive "dispute settlement" process that would resolve terms of employment through a mediator, a fact-finder, and finally a hearing panel composed of the legislative authority (e.g., a city council or a school board), if needed to resolve an impasse.
The amended bill kept much of the previous version intact but made the following key changes:
- Removes proposed jail time and/or fines as a possible contempt-of-court penalty for workers who unlawfully participate in strikes;
- Restores the ability of police officers, firefighters, and other public safety workers to bargain over safety equipment;
- Prohibits union contracts from requiring nonunion employees affected by contracts to pay a "fair share" fee to union organizations;
- Bans automatic deductions from employee paychecks that would support the unions' political action committees, except as allowed in Campaign Finance Law;
- Removes provisions defining employee picketing and "direct dealings" by employees with certain public officials during labor negotiations as unfair labor practices;
- Removes provision requiring the State Employment Relations Board to hold hearings for all unfair labor practice charges;
- Reduces vote required for rejecting fact-finder recommendations from two-thirds to a simple majority;
- Designates employer's last-best-offer as default agreement in certain dispute cases;
- Establishes a process for placing last-best-offers of certain public employers on the local ballot for a vote;
- Prohibits using the number or type of traffic tickets or other citations issued as a basis for determining merit or performance pay for police officers or state troopers;
- Assigns State Board of Education to establish a statewide performance framework or guidelines for determining teacher merit or performance pay;
- Creates a state commission to foster healthy employer-labor relations and promote best practices.
Opponents of the measure have vowed to put SB 5 before voters on a statewide ballot when Gov. Kasich signs the bill, which is expected shortly. However, because Ohio law states that referendums to overturn legislation must appear only on general election ballots, the timing of when the enacted legislation actually gets filed with the Secretary of State's office will determine whether voters weigh in this November or next. If legislation is filed with the Secretary of State by April 6, opponents of the measure would need to file 231,147 valid signatures -- equal to 6 percent of the total vote cast in the 2010 gubernatorial election -- by July 6 in order to put the issue on the November 2011 ballot.