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Ohio Firefighters against Senate Bill 5

 

Testimony before the Insurance, Commerce, and Labor committee, 17 February 2011

Date: Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Time: 1 PM
Location: Ohio Statehouse, 1 Capitol Square, Columbus, OH
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Chairman Bacon, Vice Chair Faber, Ranking Member Schiavoni, and all members of the Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee;

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify before you today in opposition to Senate Bill 5.  I am Mark Sanders and I am a Lieutenant on the Cincinnati Fire Department assigned to Engine 12.  Additionally, I am President of the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters (OAPFF) representing nearly 10,000 women and men who are on the front lines serving Ohio’s citizens.

My career in the fire service coincides with the history of public employee collective bargaining.  It is no coincidence that my father also served as President of the OAPFF.

I remember well the many days that he spent away from home assisting our locals through negotiations, grievances, and unfortunately strikes.

The strikes that proliferated prior to collective bargaining were driven by the human instinct to fight for one’s safety and security.  Collective bargaining with binding arbitration brought an end to that anarchy.

In 1980, my father was appointed Safety Director for the City of Marion.  After finishing near the top of a civil service exam, I was hired in rank order as a Marion firefighter in 1981.  In 1983, I was laid off from the fire department; the notice was delivered by my father.

If this same scenario would happen under provisions in SB5, would the safety director’s son be laid off?

In July of 1984, I was hired by the Cincinnati Fire Department.  After Fire College, I was assigned to Engine 14 as a firefighter/paramedic.  I was elected as Local 48 Trustee in 1987, and eventually Local President from 1993-2001.  During those years and through today, I remain an active firefighter paramedic.

After a very contentious bargaining process that led to the first contract arbitration for Cincinnati Fire since 1984, the City and Cincinnati Local 48 initiated an interest-based bargaining model in 1998.

It was reported by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service that we were the largest fire unit in the United States to engage in interest-based bargaining.

The process was healing and successfully repaired a breaking labor relationship.

Unlike my father and the firefighters before me, my experience is based on labor-management cooperation and good faith negotiating instead of job actions and strikes.  As noted, we used the IBB process to restore a good relationship that was quickly becoming an adversarial one.

Fostering relationships with local and state decision makers has been and will continue to be the OAPFF’s focus since the enactment of Ohio’s Collective Bargaining Law.  Most recently, the OAPFF and our affiliated locals have proven this time after time by agreeing with employers to make concessions in order to maintain services during these bad economic times.

As with any law that has been on the books for decades, a review may be justified.  We do not object to transparency in the system, so long as the transparency is equally applied.  We believe that transparency can facilitate good faith bargaining.  We also do not object to decisions being justified and clearly presented for public review.

As I stated earlier, many of our locals have already made concessions, and we are certain there will be more in the future.  The ability for reasonable people to come to the table and negotiate these items is the cornerstone of successful bargaining.  Locals like Moraine, Dover, Tiffin, Jerome Township, Coshocton, and Liberty Township have agreed to wage concessions and reductions.

In my local, I personally voted a few months ago along with hundreds of my co-workers to accept a 2-year wage freeze.

It is our fear that this legislation will destroy 27 years of public safety labor peace.  Collective bargaining has been the only means for firefighters to gain safety standards.  Without the ability to bargain for safety, the firefighters will have no means to ensure that they are provided with the equipment and staffing levels we need to protect citizens and perform our duties.

While we admit that it is an inherently dangerous job, we must have the ability to protect our members and the public to the best of our ability.

Despite the horror stories cited by some, collective bargaining has done what it was intended to do.  Along with collective bargaining, binding arbitration, while rarely used, has proven to be a fair and equitable dispute resolution system.  The facts prove that arbitrators have settled disputes involving wages fairly.  An analysis by the Columbus Dispatch on January 23, 2011notes this.

It has been stated by some that binding arbitration is such a big threat that employers will often agree to terms they otherwise would not agree to.  This fear is shared by the employee organization as well.  Binding arbitration provides the motivation for both sides to negotiate in good faith to an equitable agreement.  Settling disputes through the traditional court system process would increase costs to the employee organization as well as the taxpayer.

It has also been stated that arbitration is so rarely used that we don’t need it.  We maintain that the system must have an end point that is fair to both sides.  I suggest we compare our current process of collective bargaining to the judicial system.  The arbitrator is akin to the Supreme Court, not every case is heard, but there must be an end point that is equitable.  Much like arbitration, the cost of appealing to the Supreme Court is in itself a motivation for both parties to settle.

SB 5 allows the employer to unilaterally impose all or part of a fact-finding report, and then to continue negotiations.  What motivation will the employers have to negotiate in good faith when all they need to do is pick and choose the result they want after impasse?

It is our firm belief that the public employees who provide services to the citizens of our great state are not the cause of the economic collapse and prolonged recession that is plaguing our country.  The budgetary impact of this legislation has yet to be identified.

We must remember why those who hold public trust must be treated and compensated at a fair and dignified level.  Let’s hope we have ended the days of bribing the fire inspector so that our new restaurant can open, or paying the beat cop a few extra bucks to make sure that our business is not the one targeted by criminals.  We must compensate our trust holders in such a manner that they have a reason, beyond dedication, to serve with the bravery, the honesty and the integrity needed to save or, God forbid, take a life to save another.

History has shown time and again that the working class will eventually rise up against inequity.  The strikes and job actions by safety services throughout history happened because the people who risk their lives to save others’ were left with no other option.  The strikes were illegal then, which proves that prohibiting strikes does not prevent strikes.

Collective bargaining for public safety forces in Ohio prohibits strikes and instead provides for a system of good faith negotiations that may end in binding arbitration.

This system has been in place since 1983 and was put in place as a way to end strikes by public safety forces.  This system has provided our law enforcement officers, firefighters, and EMS workers a seat at the table to bargain for wages, benefits, working conditions, and safety while providing the public uninterrupted safety services for over twenty-seven years.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

I’ll be happy to answer any questions.

Mark A. Sanders, President


The text of the testimony was published on a Facebook page of Protecting Ohio’s Protectors; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.  For more information, visit <oh.aflcio.org/index.cfm?action=calendar>, <www.afscmecouncil8.org> and <www.facebook.com/pages/Stand-Up-For-Ohio/167952849919161>.  See, also, “Ohio Labor: No on SB5!”; Dan La Botz, “A New American Workers Movement Has Begun” (MRZine, 18 February 2011); Dan La Botz, “Thousands Rally in Columbus to Stop Anti-Union Bill” (Labor Notes, 18 February 2011). 


 

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