Law professor: Ohio’s anti-labor law SB5 will deplete public-sector union political, member strength

Posted on: October 21st, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

As the fate of Ohio’s Senate Bill 5 hangs in the balance, so too may the fate of public-sector unions in the Buckeye State.

The bill, which voters will have the chance to repeal on Nov. 8 via the veto referendum Issue 2, not only strips public-sector unions of virtually all of their power to bargain collectively, but it will also greatly diminish their political power and could result in their demise altogether.

“There will be no public-sector unions in Ohio after a couple of years,” said Charlie Wilson, a labor and education law professor at Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law.

If SB5 is not repealed, public-sector unions could be crippled financially. The legislation will prohibit “fair share” fees, which public employees that choose to be non-union members are currently required to pay for the costs of negotiating and administering a contract from which they derive benefits.

Under SB5, those employees that choose not to join the union would still obtain all the benefits of a negotiated contract but pay no cost for them.

The bill also strips public employees of collective bargaining rights. Wilson likened public sector union’s position at the bargaining table under SB 5 to that of a recently divorced wife facing her ex-husband in court to collect child support or alimony, and her ex-husband happens to be the judge.

“That’s exactly what Senate Bill 5 is. We still have collective bargaining. You can negotiate for wages,” he said. “But at the end of the day, if we don’t reach an agreement then management will decide what the wages will be.”

In his estimation, that will lead to an exodus of current public employees from their unions and will certainly discourage future members from joining.

“I don’t think under Senate Bill 5 there will be any benefits [in being in a union] for the simple reason that you can bargain all you want but management gets to call all the shots,” said Wilson. “I don’t think anybody is going to see any benefit in joining the union. They will be become effectively social clubs.”

Those “social clubs,” if they still exist with SB5, will hold little political power with funding sources cut off. Public-sector unions generally spend their campaign dollars on Democrats in elections. In fact, of the top ten outside spending groups nationally in 2010, seven were right-leaning, conservative organizations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The remaining three were public-sector unions.

That could further tilt the balance of power in the state towards Republicans, who used their already-strong majorities in the Ohio House and Senate to pass the union-busting legislation in a partisan fashion.

“You take that voice away; you’ve taken away the democratic system and set up a system that’s unfair and unbalanced,” said Mike Maddy, president of Unions.org. “Regardless of what side you’re on, you want to have a fair and balanced approach to how democracy plays out in this country.”

With conservative, anti-union groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce dominating the world of outside spending groups, Democrats may have to further abandon their support for middle-class workers if they want to compete.

“It’s certainly a big disadvantage for Democrats in the sense that public-sector unions have tended to support Democrats and contribute to Democrats,” said Wilson. “It will require
Democratic candidates to fashion their votes and fashion their legislation in a way that supports people who give money, and the public-sector unions won’t have any money to give.

“It will reduce the voice of average workers in the middle class if you don’t have the public-sector unions involved in the legislative process,” he added.

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