By Karl Henkel
Senate Bill 5, which will appear Tuesday on the general election ballot as Issue 2, has divided the Mahoning Valley and Ohio with a brightly contrasted line.
But on either side of that line, the issue has forged partnerships and solidarity, creating two behemoth groups.
What started as a public- versus private-sector compensation debate has morphed into a union rights’ battle, with public and private unions generally sticking together.
“It’s kind of brought labor together,” said Dave Green, president of United Auto Workers Local 1714, a private-sector union with 1,450 members at the General Motors Co. Lordstown plant.
“There’s been more solidarity between labor workers than there has been in 30 years.”
Together, Ohio’s public and private-sector unions in 2010 had about 655,000 employees. That’s 12 percent of the state’s 5.5 million work force, making Ohio the fifth-most unionized state in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Issue 2, as SB 5 is presented on the ballot, would curb some collective-bargaining rights for public employees. One of the sticking points has been health-care contributions from those employees.
But a recent Ohio study found that a majority do contribute to that funding.
There are 6.6 percent of public employees that have union and individual contracts where the employer picks up the employee’s share of the contribution.
These often include school superintendents and district treasurers.
Christopher Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, a public employee, said the vast majority of public workers don’t fall into that category and that the concern with Issue 2 is about the majority.
“There’s nobody out here as far as public employees saying, ‘We want more, we want more,’” he said. “We believe the collective-bargaining process gives us a fair and equitable time frame to deal with economic, work and life issues.”
Mabe isn’t alone, and a local group of unions continues to step on the gas to abolish Senate Bill 5.
His fellow civil-service workers, Doug Sollitto, president of Ohio State Penitentiary Chapter 5041, and Eric Kusky, president of Chapter 7820, have fought to get their message out for months, especially when it pertains to the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, the private-business entity with about 2,800 members.
Tony Paglia, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs, earlier this year described SB 5 a “common-sense approach.” That statement set off fireworks throughout the business community.
Sollitto and Kusky then called for those nonchamber members to halt all business transactions with chamber members and started a “nonpartisan” chamber offshoot.
Green’s UAW local also showed its disdain for the chamber’s position. Green returned an award he received from the chamber last year for the plant’s success.
“For them [the chamber] to kind of turn things off and focus on political avenues, it was disheartening for us,” he said.
And that’s when the story turned. It became less of a public- versus private-sector argument and more of a union rights’ issue.
Mabe said he hopes the union support in the private sector will help secure a victory Tuesday in repealing SB 5.