'Kill the bill' protest in Chillicothe

Kill The Bill Chillicothe
Heather Cory/Chillicothe Gazette

By Jona Ison in the Chillicothe Gazette

CHILLICOTHE - Car horns blared and people chanted "kill the bill" as several hundred rallied outside the Ross County Courthouse on Saturday.

The rally, organized by the Chillicothe City Schools teachers union, was just one of several being conducted by public employees throughout the state concerning Senate Bill 5.

The bill, passed by the Ohio Senate earlier this month, currently is in committee at the House. If passed, the bill will restrict collective bargaining for public employees which includes teachers, corrections employees, police and fire fighters.

Wil Vickery, president of the Chillicothe Education Association, said the rallies are more about raising awareness and educating both union members and the community.

"It's concentrated education about this bill because we have a lot of people who don't know (what it's about)," Vickery said. "In spite of what everyone says, it's going to have a negative impact."

Raising awareness with rallies also means increasing the likelihood the bill, if passed, will end up as a referendum and left up to voters to decide upon. Bart Henshaw, a former teacher, union president and Democratic councilwoman, said the rallies make people feel more part of the process.

"I think the rallies give voice to people who aren't comfortable going to Columbus. All politics are local. ...It's easy to not feel part of the process, and I think these rallies bring people in and feel part of the process," Henshaw said.

The bill looks to change the bargaining process in many ways including eliminating binding arbitration, replacing pay scales by a merit pay system, and taking health insurance off the table as a bargaining chip.

Pioneer Center Superintendent Rick Marriott said the bill will impact non-union employees, such as those at Pioneer, as well.

"They're changing a lot of civil service laws so everyone who isn't in unions will be affected," he said, adding it will impact a number of benefits such as the number of paid sick days for public employees. "It affects a lot more people than just union (employees)."

Teacher and Chillicothe City Council member Dustin Proehl, D-At large, spoke about concerns that ending collective bargaining also will have a negative impact on the economy and the bill will not be the budget saver Gov. John Kasich and others are touting it to be.

"(The bill) is the equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face," Proehl said. "When people say they want change, they're talking about the change in their pocket, not turning back time and erasing progress."

Henshaw said her biggest concern is the lack of process.

"It's not just about the unions. It's about whatever he (Kasich) wants, it's going to go through ... This is not going to make Ohio a more respectable place to do business," Henshaw said. "I really do think companies that have higher paying jobs ... they respect governments that follow process and keep order. How can you say we have this wonderful workforce, but you don't respect them enough to negotiate?"

Some Republicans, such as State Sen. Tim Grendell, R-Chesterland, also have spoken to about concerns that the bill is being pushed through too quickly.

Ross County Democratic Party Chair Dottie Fay worked with the Ohio Education Association in its formative years and said unionization wasn't just about benefits.

"As a new OEA employee in 1975, I was sent to many school picket lines across the state for strikes where teachers just wanted the right to have meaningful discussions with boards," she said. "Recognition was the main issue, not the benefits that would be bargained after recognition."

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