On Wednesday, March 3, 2011, the Ohio Senate passed an amended version of Senate Bill 5, which proposes significant reforms to Ohio's public sector collective bargaining act and Ohio's school law.

Notably, the Bill is NOT law yet, and the terms of the Bill will likely change. However, below is a list of some of the major changes proposed by the Bill as it was passed by the Ohio Senate:

 

  • Reinstates collective bargaining rights for state employees. The initial Bill eliminated collective bargaining for state and public university employees.
  • Eliminates the right to strike for all public sector employees. Under the existing law, only police and firefighters were restricted from striking. Under the Bill, any public employee that strikes may be subject to removal, pay deductions, and (for those public employees that strike in violation of a court's injunction) criminal fines and/or possible imprisonment. Furthermore, any union that supports a strike may have the payment of dues suspended.
  • Redefines what matters are subject to bargaining. Mandatory subjects of bargaining include: wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. Subjects prohibited from bargaining include: health care benefits, pension pick-up, privatization of services, workforce levels, hourly overtime rates in excess of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and past practices. Other subjects, including subjects included in a previous contract, are permissive subjects of bargaining.
  • Creates a new dispute procedure. All public employees would follow the same dispute procedure (thus eliminating conciliation for police and fire employees). If the parties cannot reach an agreement through bargaining, then they may request a mediator. After a mediator is appointed, if the parties still cannot reach an agreement, then the parties may request the appointment of an arbitrator, called a fact-finder. A fact-finding hearing may be open to the public at the request of either party (currently they are private). If the parties still cannot agree on the terms of an agreement, then the legislative body of the public employer must vote to accept the last best offer of either the union or the public employer in a public meeting. The parties would then have to agree to the terms of the agreement for three years.
  • Modifies the factors fact-finders can consider in making their recommendations. Most notably, fact-finders can only consider the public employer's current financial status at the time of bargaining (and not any potential increase in revenue by raising taxes, selling assets, assuming new debt, etc.) when determining whether the public employer can afford to pay for the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
  • Changes public employee vacation and sick leave amounts, police and fire DROP benefits, and caps the amounts of vacation leave, holidays, personal days, and sick leave payouts that can be agreed to in an agreement.
  • Clarifies what public employees are excluded from being a bargaining unit member, especially as applied to firefighters and faculty at public universities. Specifically, faculty at public universities that exercise managerial authority are not subject to bargaining. "Fire supervisory officers" (term not defined) are not subject to collective bargaining.
  • Changes fire bargaining unit definitions, so that rank and file firefighters cannot be in the same bargaining unit as members who are ranked lieutenant and above.
  • Permits a public employer to make changes to an agreement during a fiscal emergency/watch.
  • Expands the list of factors a public employer can consider in cases of reductions-in-force. Currently it is generally just seniority/longevity, but is expanded to include performance considerations.
  • Establishes public employee merit pay ranges (as opposed to step increases based solely on years of service).
  • Expands management rights for public employers.

The Bill also makes significant changes to Ohio School law, including allowing teachers to negotiate a three-year initial contract, and subsequent contracts for two to five years.

Notably, none of the Bill's provisions would affect existing collective bargaining agreements. The changes would become effective for contracts entered into on or after the Bill's effective date.

Many anticipate that the Ohio House Insurance and Labor Committee will begin hearings on the Bill this week. Likely, the Ohio House will adopt more amendments to the Bill. If it is amended, then any differences between the House and Senate Bills would have to be reconciled and approved. Then the Bill would be sent to the Governor for his approval, and filed with the Ohio Secretary of State.

Opponents of the Bill have pledged to put the Bill up for a state-wide referendum. The referendum could appear on the November 2011 ballot or the November 2012 ballot depending on a) when the Bill is received by the Ohio Secretary of State, and b) whether the Bill's opponents can gather the required number of signatures. Significantly, the effective date of the Bill may be delayed until after the referendum.