From the Dayton Daily News…
Editorial: Kasich right that labor law is too one-sided
Monday, December 13, 2010
Gov.-elect John Kasich is more conservative than any of the state’s Republican governors going back a half-century. So it’s no great surprise to hear him saying things that labor unions don’t like.
During his campaign, he was asked if wants to make Ohio a “right-to-work” state. The question was a reference to an old fight about “union shops,” wherein it’s against the law to require workers to be in a union. He said he had no interest in going there. And he insisted he has no hostility to unions.
But because the governor won an election promising to cut government spending and Ohio is looking at a staggering deficit, conflict is coming.
Last week, Mr. Kasich said he doesn’t believe in the right of public employees to strike. He also doesn’t believe the state should have to pay private construction workers on government projects what’s called the “prevailing wage.” And he wants to rescind at least a part of the state’s collective-bargaining law, passed under Democrats without any Republican support.
He has genuinely legitimate concerns. After all, he’s supposed to defend taxpayers, and there’s no question that public employees’ salaries and benefits represent the biggest-ticket items in many governments’ budgets. Especially public employee pensions have to be brought under control.
Also, one need not be a conservative Republican to see the problem with state law on collective bargaining as it relates to police and firefighters. That law requires binding arbitration in the event of an impasse in negotiations. If a city and its unions cannot reach agreement, a state arbitrator decides what the next contract will be.
The idea is to avoid strikes. The law has done that, but at a cost and a loss of tremendous management authority.
Arbitrators sometimes make decisions that amaze reasonable observers of a city’s finances. Some seem to assume that a government’s only financial responsibility is to pay its workers. The city in question can appeal an arbitrator’s decision to the courts. Still, arbitration power is an awfully big power to give one unelected official, who is typically from out of town and doesn’t have to live with the consequences.
In his comments last week, the governor-elect didn’t say how he proposes to fix the collective-bargaining problem, just that there must be a better way to keep safety forces from striking. Looking for one is a good idea. He did say, though, that “if they want to strike, they should be fired.” He didn’t specify what he’ll be proposing on other aspects of labor law either.
“We are going to have collective bargaining reform,” he said. “It’s just a matter of how far we go.”
As a result of the recession, many public employees have been laid off. Others have taken effective pay cuts via furloughs. Nevertheless, the notion is widespread that public employees haven’t paid the kind of price in salary and benefit reductions that private employees have in this economic downturn.
So the governor-elect has the wind at his back. The danger is that Republicans, now having the kind of sweeping control of the state government that Democrats had when they shaped the state’s approach to collective bargaining, will be equally determined to use that power — and be equally partisan — and will create a different system that has a whole new set of problems.
Is there something that needs to be fixed? Absolutely.
Should the premise be that public employees are the enemy? No.