Ohio Senate Bill 5: Public Sector Collective Bargaining Reform--What You Need to Know

February 15, 2011 By Donald L. Crain, W. Joseph Scholler, Thomas A. Swope

Today, the Ohio Senate's Insurance, Commerce, and Labor Committee is having public hearings on the Senate Bill 5, which proposes substantial changes to Ohio's public sector labor and collective bargaining laws.

Last week, state Senator Shannon Jones (Springboro) introduced Senate Bill 5. Senate Bill 5 prohibits state employees from collectively bargaining, replaces state employee salary schedules and step increases with merit pay, and proposes changes affecting public employee benefits. The Bill also alters rules for collective bargaining for local governmental employees. 

Some individuals testifying before the Senate committee focused not on the details of the bill, but on the overarching problems with the current law. One person, a former president of the Ohio Public Employer Labor Relations Association (OHPELRA), testified that when the law was written and passed in 1983, the Ohio Labor Act was largely modeled on the National Labor Relations Act, which established collective bargaining rights for employees in the private sector. But the Ohio law varies from the federal law in several key respects, and in every case, does so by granting more liberal and extensive rights to public sector employees than private sector employees enjoy.

For example, federal private sector labor law protects an employer's right to make decisions on the core management of the enterprise. But Ohio's law for public employees restricts the rights of management. While the law purports to set certain rights for management to decide, public employers must bargain with unions about any decision that merely affects wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment – which is nearly everything.

Moreover, under federal private sector labor law, employers have the ability to implement their last, best, and final offer if the parties cannot agree. In contrast, under the Ohio Act, when public employees and public employers cannot agree on provisions of their collective bargaining agreement, they have to go to a private arbitrator (called a "fact-finder"), who recommends a compromise contract. For public safety employees, if the parties do not like the arbitrator's recommendations, they can ask a final arbitrator to decide the terms of the agreement, but both parties have to agree to whatever terms the arbitrator decides. This process is called "binding arbitration" because the parties are forced to abide by the arbitrator's decision. Unfortunately, for taxpayers, this process usually results in higher wages and forces public employers to agree to contractual terms in excess of their last, best, and final offer in negotiations.

Among other changes, Senate Bill 5 attempts to correct some of these bargaining inequities by:

The Bill also makes significant changes to Ohio School law, including limiting continuing contracts for teachers, limiting teacher leave policies, and abolishing school employee health care boards.

The Ohio Senate's Insurance, Commerce, and Labor Committee is having public hearings on the Bill Tuesday, February 15; Thursday, February 17; and may hold additional hearings next week. Bill proponents, opponents, and interested parties may submit written and/or personal testimony regarding how current and proposed collective bargaining provisions affect/will affect their organizations or jurisdictions.

If you have any questions about how the changes to Ohio's collective bargaining law could affect your organization, or how you can provide input in the legislative process, please contact Don Crain, Joe Scholler, Tom Swope, or any Ohio member of Frost Brown Todd's Governmental Services Practice Group