What Now, Ohio?

Despite all the frequent flier miles President Obama racked up reminding Ohio’s Democrats to vote for Democrats, the GOP swept just about everything on the ballot. Now what? There is the nagging question of a teensy deficit to deal with.

If Governor-elect Kasich and the state legislature are looking for easy targets, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is a perfect place to start. The notion that government desk jockeys who are nigh-impervious to firing need union representation is laughable. Enthusiasm for handsomely compensating public employees is hardly at an all-time high among the public, and fiscal sanity has to begin somewhere.

Kasich has already said in no uncertain terms how he feels about the education unions:

During a speech before Ashtabula County Republicans in March 2009, Kasich talked about the need to “break the back of organized labor in the schools,” according to the Ashtabula Star Beacon. He did not back away from that quote last week, saying as he pushes ideas to change schools he has often clashed with teachers unions, who have “smeared my record and distorted it.”

If that’s the way our governor-to-be talked during a general election campaign, there’s no reason to believe he’ll mince words in January. There’s also no reason for Ohio’s House or Senate to pull punches – what are the union bosses going to do, support Republicans less? Ending the NEA’s stranglehold on Ohio schools will be a complicated, difficult process… but kneecapping the AFSCME is a no-brainer:

  • It’s economically responsible. Public unions represent coddled employees against their employers – the public.
  • It’s politically viable. Display one colorful chart of public vs. private sector pay and benefits, add in a list of some AFSCME shop’s recent contract demands, and you’re done before lunch.
  • It doesn’t hit opportunistic politicians in their pocketbooks. No Republican should expect union campaign contributions in a race where there’s a Democrat.

Talk is cheap; what can Ohio’s leaders actually do about the AFSCME?

Exempt More Public Employees from Collective Bargaining

ORC 4117.01(C) defines 17 employee types not covered by the provisions of Chapter 4117: Public Employees’ Collective Bargaining. ORC 4117.03 states that public employers are not prohibited from collective bargaining with 16 of the 17 exempted employee types. Modify 4117.01(C) to exempt any public employee who isn’t a cop, custodian, firefighter, or EMT, and modify 4117.03(C) to prevent collective bargaining between public employers and any employee listed in the 4117.01(C) exceptions.

Create Reasonable Limits to what Public Unions can Demand

ORC 4117.08(C) begins as follows…

Unless a public employer agrees otherwise in a collective bargaining agreement, nothing in Chapter 4117. of the Revised Code impairs the right and responsibility of each public employer to:

…and then lists 9 things a collective bargaining agreement should never “impair the right and responsibility” of a public employer to do. Strike everything up to and including the comma in 4117.08(C).

While we’re at it, add some commonsense restrictions to bargaining over salary and benefits. Preclude raises for public employees when unemployment in the county exceeds, say, 8% for six consecutive months. Set acceptable salary ranges for each employee classification, tied to inflation. Require employees to pay a certain percentage of health insurance premiums.

Cover ORC 4117 With a Coat, and Whack it with a Hammer

Chapter 4117 of the Ohio Revised Code is based on a flawed premise: that elected officials and their appointed minions can be counted on to protect the public’s interests and bargain in good faith with the AFSCME. Specifically, refer to 4117.20(A):

No person who is a member of the same local, state, national, or international organization as the employee organization with which the public employer is bargaining or who has an interest in the outcome of the bargaining, which interest is in conflict with the interest of the public employer, shall participate on behalf of the public employer in the collective bargaining process except that the person may, where entitled, vote on the ratification of an agreement.

Given the clout and campaign spending of the AFSCME, what public official doesn’t have an interest in the outcome of their office’s collective bargaining? Democrats know they’ve got a friend for life if they accede to the AFSCME’s demands, and have absolutely no incentive to discourage their employees from unionizing. Would you stop me from joining a club that takes my money and donates it to you? Republicans know that the AFSCME is forever turning their employees against them, and can hope to limit union opposition by giving some leeway.

Ohio’s new leadership should drastically redefine the collective bargaining rights ORC 4117 affords to state and local employees. Considering the no-nonsense approach Kasich has taken to stopping the 3C rail boondoggle dead in its unaffordable tracks, I think this is a real possibility. Nothing sharpens the mind like an eight billion dollar deficit! It also doesn’t hurt that The Buckeye Institute has done huge amounts of work analyzing public employment in the state.

I’m a higher education employee. I’m happy with my position, happy with my pay, and happy to look elsewhere if either of those things change. I also have too much time on my hands. Basically, if I had any power or influence I’d be the AFSCME’s worst enemy. Guess I’ll settle for sharing these suggestions with every Ohio politician I can reach!

[ Update, 11-18-2010: Had to rewrite much of this post after some snafu with Hosting.com resulted in my WordPress database no longer containing a bunch of revisions made between 1:15 and 2:30 AM on Nov. 11. Couldn’t tell you whether this version is better or worse, since a suitable mysqldump and an explanation are both things Hosting.com has failed to provide. ]