AFL-CIO asks Marion City Council to oppose SB 5

by John Jarvis | 3/10/2011 | Click here to view the Marion Star online

MARION -- A resolution calling on the state's governor and lawmakers to stop efforts to restrict collective bargaining rights has the votes to gain City Council approval.

The Mid-Ohio AFL-CIO has asked council members to put the resolution on the agenda of their meeting Monday. The support of three members is needed to put the item up for council consideration.

Interviews of council members on Wednesday revealed at least six members of the city's legislative body support adoption of the resolution. All six Democratic members of council said they are in favor of the resolution, one more than the five votes that eventually will be needed to enact the item.

Councilman Ralph Cumston, D-1st Ward, said he will miss the council meeting because he has another meeting to attend in Indianapolis on Monday. Minus his vote, supporters of the resolution represent a majority of the nine-member council. Without his vote, however, the resolution likely will be limited to a first reading as it likely won't gain the seven votes needed to suspend council rules and adopt the ordinance without three readings.

Although not cited by name, Senate Bill 5 is the object of the resolution, said Mike Huffman, president of the Mid-Ohio AFL-CIO. Huffman said the senate bill represents an "erosion of our constitutional rights, free speech and right of association. These are things we feel are being taken away from us."

The AFL-CIO has scheduled a press conference to outline the resolution at 4 p.m. today at City Hall, 233 W. Center St. Council will meet at 7:30 p.m. Monday.

Cumston, who's expressed his opposition to Senate Bill 5 at recent council meetings, said he supports the AFL-CIO resolution because "it's like a competition. People should have a right to choose. Whether people think the system is flawed or not ... middle-class people is the most important economic driver we have out there. ... I think the more we take people's rights away the harder they resist."

Councilman Ayers Ratliff, D-2nd Ward, supports the resolution.

"I think that having employees sit down as a group and, whether you call it negotiation or bargaining or communicating, I think that's a basic right that state government is trying to take away at this point," Ratliff said. "When you take away basic discussion, communication, bargaining between employers and employees you're fostering dissatisfaction and a less smooth kind of operation than if you have open lines of communication."

Regarding the possibility that eliminating collective bargaining rights of city employees would make it easier for council to rein in spending and balance the budget, Ratliff said, "... We need to look at reducing spending at the top and ways to generate further revenue instead of just taking it off the backs of our employees, who work hard for us every day."

Councilman James Gilsdorf, R-6th Ward, said eliminating collective bargaining for city employees would assist council in maintaining a healthy general fund budget; council on March 1 cut $800,000 in spending from the 2011 general fund budget and expects to remove at least $400,000 more, with additional state cuts looming.

"What's amazing to me is we've got 320 city workers who have jobs," he said. "They've got good pay, they've got excellent benefits, excellent retirement, and there are 14,000 taxpayers in the city of Marion, many of whom don't have jobs, whose hours have been cut, who don't have any benefits or very small benefits, who don't have any retirement, and they are being asked to continually pay more and more for those 320 city workers' wages and benefits. ... I think it needs to be brought back into balance. I see the need for unions. It's just the overall situation has kind of gotten out of balance."

Councilman Mike Thomas, D-3rd Ward, said he will vote for the resolution.

Thomas, former president of the Mid-Ohio AFL-CIO, said getting rid of collective bargaining for public employees won't solve the financial woes of the city of Marion or other municipalities.

Citing similar efforts in Wisconsin to restrict public workers' collective bargaining rights, he said, "I've read they're talking about a $3.6 billion deficit. If what they're proposing in Wisconsin happens, over two years they'll save $300 million. I'm not quite sure how you can blame public workers over that ($3.6) billion deficit."

He said Marion city police and firefighters bargaining units have worked with the city to reduce costs, taking furlough days.

"The problem is we have no tax base," Thomas said. "... You've still got to have the fire department. You still have to have people picking up trash, fixing potholes."

Councilwoman Debbie Blevins, D-4th Ward, said she supports the resolution, adding, "Several of my family members work for the state and they're all worried about their jobs. I'm not a union member, but I've been involved with it all my life because my husband is. I want to do anything that protects jobs."

She said unions representing city workers have taken pay cuts through reduced hours.

Ruth Masters, D-5th Ward, expressed her opposition to Senate Bill 5, saying, "I want to kill it. I have a son who works at (North Central Correctional Institution) who would lose his job if they privatize."

Gov. John Kasich has proposed in his state budget to privatize NCCI.

"We've got so many people unemployed in Marion and if they do that and all those people are unemployed, what's that Marion going to be like?" Masters said.

Rebecca Gustin, D-at large, said the Senate rushed the legislation.

"I'm really dismayed about it," Gustin said. "Whether you're for unions or not for unions it's harmful for families the way it's written. ... Hopefully, the House is looking at it more carefully."

She said she expects if it is put into law that a referendum will put it on the ballot for voters to decide.

Passage of such a bill would help cities, townships and counties operate at less cost, "but I think the police and fire departments have been very good working with us to adjust their budgets," she said.

Phone messages left with Councilmen Jason Schaber, R-at large, and Eric Hines, R-at large, were not returned by press time.

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