Call to Duty: Myths and perceptions of Senate Bill 5Written by Michael Nicely Tom Bartley | | Duty@toledofreepress.com
A CEO, a member of the Tea Party and a union member sit at a table with 12 cookies. The CEO takes 11 cookies, leans over to the Tea Party member and says, “Watch out, that union guy wants some of your cookie.”
It would be funny if it weren’t so damn true. As firefighters and union members, we want to set the record straight on a few myths about Senate Bill 5.
Myth: Binding arbitration is inherently evil
Thirty years ago, Toledo was crippled by a strike of its safety forces. This occurred when management and labor could not reach an agreement on pay and working conditions. From the ashes of that strike, a compromise was born. Safety forces agreed not to strike and the city agreed to submit disputes to binding arbitration.
The term “binding” applies to both sides, not just the city. Many arbitration decisions favor the city, they just don’t make news. The city’s economic status is always included as evidence in arbitrations regarding economic issues. Just because the city doesn’t always win does not make the system wrong.
With police and fire, there is a definitive need for a fair conflict resolution when it comes to safety issues, both for us in the workplace and for citizens. S.B.5 eliminates binding arbitration and replaces it with a system in which City Council replaces the arbitrator. That is not justice; it is like letting your in-laws decide your divorce settlement.
Myth: This legislation will not affect services
In 1960, 140 firefighters responded to 7,884 incidents. In 2010, 103 firefighters responded to more than 52,000 incidents. Motivated by increasing run volume and decreasing manpower, Toledo Fire launched a campaign to create safe and reasonable minimums for firefighters on duty each day. A minimum of 103 prevailed as the base safety manning. By every comparative standard, Toledo Fire has proven 103 is a necessity, not a luxury.
S.B. 5 arbitrarily eliminates safety minimums. This will affect service to citizens. Response times will increase, stations may close. Depending on run volume, your emergency may go on a wait list. Who would want to move here and raise a family, let alone invest and start a business with those problems?
Myth: It is unfair that public employees have pensions
Public workers have a pension system because they are not eligible for Social Security. Just as private employers and employees pay into Social Security, public employers and employees pay into pension funds.
About 20 years ago, the city approached us to start “picking up” our contribution to pension in an effort to stunt the growth of base pay. The percentage pick-up was in lieu of pay raises, the savings being the potential of cost not paid in salary if it had been added to base pay during the long term. For years, these employees agreed to forego pay increases at the city’s request, saving millions in the process.
S.B. 5 makes this practice illegal and voids already-bargained-for payments without compensation for the lost wages.
Myth: This is not an attack on unions or the middle class
If this is true, why does SB5 force 120 firefighters out of the union against their will? Under this law, any firefighter who is a lieutenant or above is forbidden from being in the bargaining unit. If such a person chooses to stay in the union, the bargaining unit is disqualified. What is the purpose of this provision, if not to weaken the union?
No one ever became a millionaire by fighting fires. We are by definition middle-class and this is an attack on us.
Myth: This is the mandate of the people
If this is the will of the people, why subvert democracy? While in Senate committee, both Republicans and Democrats were working to forge a compromise on S.B. 5. When two Republicans expressed concerns with the bill’s fairness, they were removed from the committee and replaced with two senators who quickly voted yes. One was our own Mark Wagoner. Wagoner apparently decided he only represents Republicans in the State Senate, not his entire constituency. Members of the House committee were also switched for the same reasons.
When Wall Street accepted tax dollars as bail-out money, it defended massive salaries and benefit packages. It was argued government shouldn’t set compensation ranges. S.B. 5 sets compensation ranges. It was also argued it was necessary to compensate people well to attract talent. Why does this logic not apply to those who teach our kids, fight our fires and keep our streets safe?
Wall Street types such as Gov. John Kasich argued that bonuses should be paid with bailout money because they negotiated for it and it was contractual. Honoring contracts is the basis of our economic system, they said. S.B. 5 creates a situation where what we bargained for in the past is taken away by law.
S.B. 5 is bad for firefighters and worse for Toledo. Erasing minimum manning will affect citizen safety. Fair and reasonable conflict resolution is necessary. The state should not be allowed to tear unions in half, nullify negotiated contracts and dictate to cities what it can negotiate with its safety forces.
Michael Nicely has been a firefighter for 19 years. He is a paramedic and certified in confined-space rescue. Tom Bartley has been a firefighter for 11 years. He is an EMT, registered nurse, rescue diver and is certified in confined space rescue.