NILES - Nearly 100 teachers and other employees from area school districts jammed into a meeting room in Ciminero's Banquet Hall on Friday to learn why they should oppose Senate Bill 5, which, according to local legislators, would limit collective bargaining in their contracts.
State Sen. Capri S. Cafaro, D-Hubbard, called SB5 a ''full-frontal assault'' on public employee unions.
"It will place a lot of limitations on teachers' ability to negotiate their health care and eliminate seniority," Cafaro said. "You won't be able to negotiate what buildings you want to work in."
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni discusses Senate Bill 5 Friday in Niles.
Cafaro reported that state Republican leadership worked a compromise to allow collective bargaining but removed the right to go on strike.
"In my view, it is window dressing," Cafaro said. "I don't see it as a compromise. Taking away the ability to strike is taking away the unions' leverage."
Republican state senators said Wednesday that they will support allowing unionized state employees to collectively bargain for their wages.
Tribune Chronicle / Raymond L. Smith
Sandra MaCali and Mary Little, both employees of the Niles School District, fill out cards that will be sent to Ohio House and Senate representatives across the state voicing their opposition to Senate Bill 5.
Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus said then that the bill still would not allow unions to bargain for benefits, sick time, vacation or other conditions, and the bill would permit no strikes for any public employee from the local level to the state.
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Canfield, said it is strange that this is one of the first bills Gov. John Kasich and the Republican majority are working to pass during a time when the state has an $8 billion debt.
"They are trying to pit private employees against public employees," Schiavoni said.
Schiavoni suggested when people accept public sector jobs, they generally know what they will be making when they take the jobs and about what they will be making when they retire.
"In the private sector, you can fall on your face or you can become the next Bill Gates," he said.
Schiavoni emphasized that Democrats were not given a chance to offer amendments to the bill because its supporters presented them the bill on the day the hearings on it began.
"We did not have time to thoroughly read it," he said.
They expect to add amendments to the bill next week.
Schiavoni encouraged teachers and others that have personal days available to attend hearings scheduled for Tuesday morning.
Kasich, speaking at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna on Thursday, said the changes aren't a personal attack against workers.
"This is all about trying to get the state in the right position. Private (industry) workers have made sacrifices," he said Thursday, noting private workers on average pay 23 percent of their health care cost versus 9 percent for the average public worker.
Senate Bill 5 is designed to give local government leaders greater ability to negotiate such issues with unions, he said.
Rep. Tom Letson, D-Warren, told the crowd Friday not to let the bill's proponents define it with the generic term of public employees.
"When talking to people about SB5, don't say public employees. Remind them they are talking to teachers, police officers, firefighters, snow plow operators and other city and county workers," Letson said. "These are people they know."
Brian McConnell of Niles called SB5 bogus.
"My parents were teachers," McConnell said. "I am a teacher. We work very hard. We should have the right to bargain to place ourselves in the best possible position to earn a living."
Joe Burnham, a custodian, said if public employees have to pay more in benefits and see their incomes decline, it will affect the rest of the economy.
"Who will go and buy the new cars, homes and go to local stores to buy things that help to keep the economy running?" Burnham said.
Theresa Rohland described SB 5 as too much of an intrusion into the rights of workers.
"Collective bargaining allows little people to have a voice in our work conditions," Rohland said.