Testimony before the Insurance, Commerce, and Labor committee, 17 February 2011
Thank you Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee for giving me the opportunity to appear before the committee today and provide opposition testimony to SB # 5. My name is Larry Phillips and I am the President of the Ohio State Troopers Association (OSTA). The State Troopers Association is the union that represents Sergeants, Troopers, Dispatchers, and Electronic Technicians of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
In addition to being President of the OSTA, I am also a Trooper with the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Next Friday I will be celebrating my thirty-year anniversary with the Highway Patrol. Those thirty years of experience as a Trooper gives me a somewhat unique perspective of the collective bargaining process. Not only have I worked the last twenty-eight years under negotiated contracts with the State, but I worked the first two years of my career without a contract. It is the differences in working conditions that I would like to discuss today.
The Highway Patrol was formed in 1933, which means that it had been in existence for fifty years by the time that the Collective Bargaining Law was passed. During those preceding fifty years Troopers were basically viewed as disposable. You could count on both hands, with several fingers left over, the total number of Troopers who were able to retire prior to 1983. Even though many years brought well over one hundred resignations of Troopers to pursue other opportunities, the Division’s viewpoint was, “They have never lost a good Trooper.”
What were the working conditions that caused so many individuals to leave? Prior to 1983 the Patrol controlled every aspect, both on and off duty, of a Trooper’s life. You not only had to live in the county that you were assigned to work in, but your residence also had to be approved by your post commander.
Once you actually started working, things became even more controlling. Your work schedule was completely set by your Post Commander. At the time all Sergeants, Troopers, and Dispatchers worked a weekly rotating schedule. They would work seven days of afternoons and then be off two days. They would then go to six days of day shift and be off two days. The third week they would work seven days of midnights and then go off on time off before starting the rotation all over again. Of course, this schedule was subject to change. Days off and work starting times were changed with little to no notice. Members would at times come to work and work a couple of hours before being sent home and told to complete the remainder of their shift that afternoon. Troopers also routinely had schedules that included double backs and even triple backs. These types of changes certainly played havoc with a member’s home life and made it impossible to make any long-term plans.
Today’s collective bargaining agreement allows members to bid on a fixed non-rotating schedule but also gives management the flexibility to adjust schedules as needed for operational necessity.
While today’s schedules are certainly an improvement in working conditions, they are not the only factor that has substantially improved working conditions. Today members are allowed to put in requests for transfers to be granted when the employer has an opening at a place they would like to work. Prior to collective bargaining, not only were transfers very rarely approved, but you were strongly discouraged from even putting in a transfer request because it made the Lieutenant look bad that someone would want to leave his post.
Unfortunately, pre-collective bargaining, there was one type of transfer that was given. That was a penalty transfer. This occurred when the Patrol would tell someone that that his job was now on the other side of the state and that he was expected to be there in a few days. It did not matter if you had children in schools or your spouse worked; if you wanted to continue your employment with the Patrol, that was where your job was. And if you didn’t, well, the Patrol has never lost a good Trooper.
Not only did your Post Commander get to decide where you lived and what shift you worked, he also decided when you got to work overtime. If he liked you, which usually meant you were writing a bunch of tickets, you were the trooper who was offered the off-duty details.
It was not just working conditions that were improved by collective bargaining. Collective bargaining has allowed the OSTA to make substantial improvements in officer safety. When our members’ new weapons were misfiring and jamming, the Patrol blamed this on everything from not being fired properly to using the wrong kind of gun cleaning oil. After a Trooper’s gun misfired and she was wounded, we were able to negotiate new weapons before there were any further tragedies.
When it was discovered that protective vests were defective, we went to both the Patrol and the Ohio Attorney General to attempt to get them to go to bat for police officers. When that was unsuccessful our union’s attorney became one of the lead attorneys that forced the vest manufactures to provide safe vests at no cost to not only police officers in Ohio, but also all over the country. This action on our part not only provided the proper protection to police officers, but also saved the State hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Many of you may recall the tragic patrol car fire in Gallipolis that claimed the lives of not only two state troopers, but also one civilian. What you may not know is that we had been attempting to get the Patrol to take some type of corrective action for over three years. The only action they had taken prior to this fire was traveling around to study the issue and allowing the division logo to be used by Ford in an advertisement about how safe their cars were.
Through collective bargaining, we were able to force the State to equip patrol cars with a safety mechanism to prevent this type of tragedy from ever occurring again. It is unfortunate that we could not get this change enacted prior to three people losing their lives.
In the most recent contract, we negotiated a provision that would allow us to work with the Patrol to get carbine rifles in patrol cars. We just recently came to a final agreement that will allow our members to initially carry their own weapons with them.
The final area of concern that I would like to discuss would be the elimination of the current pay scales and enact future “merit raises.” We currently have in our contract that officers cannot be given quotas for tickets, nor can they be ordered to write tickets. While enforcing traffic law is a major part of a state trooper’s job, it would not be in the best interest of the citizens of Ohio if future merit raises were based on the number of tickets they issued.
There are many things that you cannot control when you work for public safety. You cannot control if the next car you stop is being driven by a drunk who is willing to fight to keep from going to jail. You can’t control if you are going to get in a gun battle or get involved in patrol car crash. You can’t control if you are going to have to risk your life to enter a burning house.
Collective bargaining did not cause the Wall Street crash, the home foreclosure crisis, or today’s current budget deficit. But what it has done is to allow our members to have a small sense of normalcy in a profession that is outside the norm. It has allowed them to have working conditions that allow them to be involved in their communities, working conditions where they can be involved with their families, and working conditions where they are permitted to be actively involved in their own personal safety.
On behalf of public safety forces in Ohio and their families, I am asking that you do not take that away from us.
Thank you once again for giving me this opportunity and I would be happy to answer any questions that the committee might have.
Ohio State Troopers Association
The text of the testimony was published on an OSTA Facebook page; 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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