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Guest column/End to bargaining not answer

February 28, 2011

The last few weeks in the Ohio Legislature have been largely consumed by the topic of Senate Bill 5. Senate Bill 5, as it currently stands, would prohibit public employees from using collective bargaining. From the time when Ohio's Collective Bargaining Law passed in 1983, there has been a decrease in strikes and more professionalism from our public employees, adding to the strength of Ohio's economy.

I have been able to meet with many of my constituents in Columbus to discuss Senate Bill 5. What seems to be getting lost in the discussion is who is being affected by this legislation. Public employees include the Department of Transportation employees who plow our roads 24/7 if needed. It includes nurses who care for our loved ones, many at the end stages of life. It includes the dedicated teacher who pays for supplies out of his or her own pocket to work with our children. It includes the schools support staff who work long hours for very little pay. It includes prison guards, firefighters and police officers who have dedicated their lives to keeping the public safe.

Now more than ever, it's important for Ohioans to work together to find common sense solutions to maintain and create jobs. The right of public employees who provide vital public services in our communities to bargain collectively with their employer over wages, hours and safety conditions is important to overcoming the economic challenges facing Ohio's future. The government should not make new laws taking away the rights of people to use collective bargaining.

Amid the heated debate related to SB5, there are some misconceptions regarding the willingness of public employees to make sacrifices. During the past nine years, state employees have taken five years of pay freezes or pay cuts. In addition, public employee concessions in the last state budget included a two week pay-cut each year, as well as the loss of five personal days and increased health care costs. These concessions were made as a good-faith effort to help balance the budget, saving the state of Ohio nearly $250 million through pay cuts and $100 million in health benefit reductions. In addition, school workers and local government employees have taken wage and benefit concessions to help balance local budgets. The cuts that have already been made is evidence that public employees continue to be committed partners in seeking solutions for our state's financial challenges.

There is no correlation between public sector bargaining and the state's' budget gaps. The only way we can fix the economy and permanently fix the financial crisis Ohio is in, is to focus on maintaining and creating jobs. I want to continue to see high accountability and responsibility from our public employees. We need to continue to get the most efficient and productive employees in the nation. Eliminating collective bargaining rights simply will not make this goal a reality.

(Wilson, D-Columbiana, is a member of the Ohio State Senate.)

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