By Marc Kovac
Public-employee unions have saved taxpayers more than $1 billion through contract concessions over the past three years, according to a study released Tuesday by opponents of Senate Bill 5.
The study was paid for by Protecting Ohio’s Protectors, a coalition of police and firefighter unions, to show that state and local workers have accepted wage freezes or reductions, increased health-care premiums, unpaid furlough days and other compensation cuts in light of the state’s economic downturn.
“Our members recognized the economic conditions in this state and were giving money back to their employers to help the doors stay open,” said Jay McDonald, president of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio. “And this report confirms that.”
But proponents of Issue 2, the November ballot item that will decide whether the state’s controversial collective-bargaining law takes effect or is repealed, said concessions aren’t the issue.
Connie Wehrkamp, spokeswoman for Building a Better Ohio, said in a released statement, “We recognize that some government workers have agreed to modest concessions from time to time, but they represent a fraction of the savings that could be generated by the reasonable reforms of Issue 2. In fact, some estimates indicate that Issue 2 would generate more than four times the savings claimed to be achieved in this union-backed report.”
She added, “If a community doesn’t have the funds to increase wages for government workers in the first place, that community won’t see any true savings, and its financial situation remains the same. Issue 2 will allow cities to realize actual cost savings that could provide immediate relief to local governments and school districts.”
Senate Bill 5, appearing as Issue 2 on the November ballot, would place limits on collective bargaining, changing the way more than 350,000 public workers have negotiated contract terms for nearly three decades.
Proponents say the changes are needed to enable public offices to better control their costs.
But opponents call the new law a politically motivated attack by Republicans on unions that will result in reductions in the ranks of teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public servants.
They also say public-employee unions have taken steps to reduce government costs in recent years.
According to the study released by Senate Bill 5 opponents, more than 90 percent of the public-employee contracts finalized last year included wage freezes.
Additionally, 65 percent of those contracts included furlough days, reduced compensation and other concessions. And more than 93 percent of public workers pay their full contribution into pension plans, with no employer pickups.
“We can certainly show in city by city, county by county, state level, that we’ve sat down and worked through these tough economic times,” said Mark Sanders, president of the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters.