Hite of union talks

Faced with balancing the state budget, Senate Bill 5 proved to be the best option to help the state and local municipalities as well as local school districts to balance their books, a state legislator claims.
An Ohio Education Association representative contends while state Sen. Cliff Hite did not lie about what is contained in Senate Bill 5, a bill which limits negotiating rights of unions representing public employees, he also did not fully explain the bill or Issue 2, which is on the ballot this fall to rescind the bill passed by the General Assembly.
“Everybody in this room has to do two things — we need to get the emotion out of this bill and this is not the private sector, we are responsible for the public’s money, that is your tax money,” Hite told 200 people gathered in a hall. “I hate people who say this is an attack on the middle class, this is saving the middle class because you pay enough in taxes already. We did a fiscally responsible thing and are ridiculed for it.
“I am emotional about this because I have been attacked the most because I was a former teacher,” he said. “I was the guy put on the committee and I was the deciding vote. I would cast that vote a hundred times over because I believed it was the right thing to do because of my experience on being on the front lines of being a public educator for 30 years.”
Hite, who was a guest of the Auglaize County Patriots, said he wanted to stave off the misinformation about Senate Bill 5 prior to voters heading to the polls in November to vote on Issue 2 to repeal the legislation.
“The more information people have before they vote the better off they are — an informed voter is better than a non-informed voter — and I am here to try and explain the ins and outs of what we went through, where the bill is now and hopefully then they will be more informed and cast the right vote for them,” Hite told the Wapakoneta Daily News Monday at the Grand Plaza Banquet Hall.
Hite explained the reason for Senate Bill 5 was state legislators and Gov. John Kasich had to close an approximate $8 billion budget hole created when federal stimulus money ended after one year. Dealing with public unions also entered the equation.
“We had to change our whole paradigm of our thinking when it comes to how we pay for public servant contracts,” Hite said. “We did not have the money and local governments were being forced to spend more than they had which means they had to keep increasing taxes or laying people off, which a lot of people were upset with that, too.
“This was the least restrictive and least offensive and we did not want to raise taxes,” the state senator said. “We did not want to raise taxes so we came up with this bill.”
Hite, who taught in the Findlay City School District and served as a union representative for a couple of years while a teacher and coach, said he is not anti-union, but he is “anti-bad government and anti-overspending.”
Senate Bill 5 limits collective bargaining rights for public employees, including teachers, police officers and firefighters. The bill permits union negotiations for wages, hours and working conditions, but bans collective bargaining for benefits.
It also eliminated binding arbitration and prohibits public employees from going on strike. Previously, police officers and firefighters could not strike regardless, but teachers and other workers could.
Under Senate Bill 5, elected officials at the state and local levels would be given the the authority to resolve contract disputes with public employees.
The bill contains approximately 500 pages and nearly 100 pages of amendments.
Hite cited a study which claimed if Senate Bill 5 was approved for 2010, it would have saved the state $1.3 billion through cuts in pay increases for public workers and health insurance premium costs.
Pat Johnson, a former teacher with the Wapakoneta City Schools District and now a labor relations consultant for the Ohio Education Association, said Hite did not give any falsehoods, but “did he explain and expound on some of the things that are truly involved in Senate Bill 5 — No.”
“Public employees still have the right to collective bargaining, but that right has been extremely limited,” Johnson told the Wapakoneta Daily News. “He did not expound on all the issues of Senate Bill 5 and Issue 2 and how they will impact our public employees.”
Johnson said it is her understanding that merit pay is still in Senate Bill 5.
She explained merit pay would be based on student test scores on standardized tests, the type of licensures a teacher holds, a teacher being ruled highly qualified and a “subjective committee will determine subjectively if a teacher deserves merit pay.” The committee could be comprised of community members and students.
She also explained Hite was confused on collected bargaining and tenure, leaving some in the crowd to shake their heads.
“I think right now the fact is the public employees are very well educated about exactly what is in and what is not in Senate Bill 5 — so I don’t think there is this heightened emotion from that standpoint,” Johnson said, answering Hite’s claim about taking emotion out of the argument. “They (teachers) have the facts now and our job now is to inform the rest of the public about the facts of Senate Bill 5 and Issue 2 before the November vote.”