Ohio Senate Bill 5
Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich signed into law a couple of days ago Senate Bill 5. One of the most onerous parts of the law, according to labor leaders and unions, is that public employees, all 350,000 of them including teachers, must pay at least 20% of their health insurance. The second most onerous part is that the law eliminates automatic step and longevity increases for public employees.
I was back in Ohio last weekend at a large gathering of family and friends. Some were public employees including a few teachers; others worked in private industry. Eventually discussion turned to Senate Bill 5, which at this point had not been signed into law. The teachers, as expected, were outraged. “I just feel like we’re targeted,” said one. “It just makes me feel awful that they don’t respect us, that they don’t respect our work. Teaching is my whole life! And they treat us like we don’t matter.”
Another young couple had just bought a house and were expecting a baby in a couple of months. He works for the state; she’s a teacher. “I don’t know how we’re going to do it,” he said. “I’ll be paying an extra $300 a month for insurance. I mean, it’s not what I expected when I took the job.”
But some of those who worked in private industry, while sympathetic to their friends and family, had to gently point out that they’ve always paid more than 20% of their health insurance. A lot more. And most expect to pay even more when they retire. “I’ve always paid 50%,” said one young man in banking. “I’d love it if I only had to pay 20%.”
Currently union members are collecting signatures in an attempt to put the measure on the ballot in November as a public referendum. I think it’s a good idea to let the public vote on the issue rather than allow the majority of the Republican legislature to make the decision for hundreds of thousands. However, given the general tone of the discussion I heard, I’m wondering how a referendum will turn out. Employees in private industry may be tired of paying for their own health insurance and also contributing to the health insurance costs of government workers. On the other hand, the collective bargaining issue may resonate with private and public workers alike.
An analysis of the state Office of Collective Bargaining estimates that the state can save $1.3 billion under the new legislation. On the other hand, the Cleveland Plain Dealer insisted in Sunday’s paper that the law wouldn’t save everyone money because workers in some cities and school districts were already paying at least 20% of health costs.
If a referendum in the fall reveals that the public doesn’t support limiting collective bargaining, it could slow the movement in its tracks. On the other hand, strong public support may be the impetus to limit the effect of public employees’ unions in other states as well.