“The great thing about the State of Ohio is that constitutionally, we have the right to referendum—also known as a citizen’s veto,” said Kate Harshman, a Columbus labor attorney who spoke at the October 6 Issues Forum at the First Unitarian Universalist Church. “Even though the government passes a law, we voters can go into the booth and vote to overturn it,” she said.
Harshman spoke on behalf of We Are Ohio, the group that organized the petition campaign to put Issue 2 on the November ballot. Issue 2 is a voter referendum on Ohio Senate Bill 5.
“Senate Bill 5 was passed earlier this year,” Harshman said. “It makes changes to several Ohio laws, most notably the Ohio Public Employees Collective Bargaining Act, which was passed in 1984, and has provided almost 30 years of stability in labor-management relations in this state.”
Senate Bill 5 eliminates collective bargaining rights for a group of public employees in this state who are currently protected under the 1984 Act. For those who are still covered under the Act, it severely limits those bargaining rights. Senate Bill 5 affects police officers, firefighters, nurses, teachers, city workers, prison workers, and librarians. Ohio currently has 330,000 public sector employees.
A majority No vote on Issue 2 will overturn Senate Bill 5. A majority Yes vote will keep the law in place.
Senate Bill 5 is “simply unfair,” Harshman said. “It takes people’s voices away. It’s also unsafe. It makes it illegal to negotiate staff ratios for police and fire, and makes it illegal for teachers to have a say about many students are going to be in their classes. It does nothing to help Ohio in the job race.”
The impetus behind the passage of Senate Bill 5 was a shift of blame for the economic recession from where it belongs—on Wall Street—to public employees, who did nothing to cause the recession, Harshman said.
At its very core, this bill blames public employees, who as a group, have tried to get us out of this budget hole with the laws that exist now. For example, state employees have given up $350 million is wage and benefit reductions. People in Mahoney County near Youngstown took 26 unpaid furlough days. People in Lawrence County took a wage cut, and are now bringing their own toilet paper to work, so people have it to use in the Job and Family Services office.
These people are helping. They’re not to blame. Politicians, when they talk about “shared sacrifice,” aren’t willing to take a pay cut. And they’re giving their own staff bonuses. That’s what their version of “shared sacrifice” is.
— Kate Harshman
There was no speaker at the Issues Forum to advocate a Yes vote on Issue 2. “We try really hard to identify a group that is both a proponent and an opponent,” said Dave Paul of the Franklin County Consortium for Good Government, the non-partisan group that organized the event. “When we only have one speaker, it means either that we were not able to find an organized group, or that we contacted them and they were unable or unwilling to appear.”
The Issues Forum was moderated by Ann Fisher, host of WOSU’s All Sides with Ann Fisher. It was sponsored by the Franklin County Consortium for Good Government and the Justice Action Ministry of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus.
Audio recordings of the Issues Forum, including audience questions and the panelists’ answers, are available on the Franklin County Consortium for Good Government’s Facebook page.
Other central Ohio ballot issues:
- Issue 1: Judicial retirement age
- Issue 3: Health care
- Issue 22: Developmental disabilities