Ohio’s Anti-Union Law Jeopardizes Public Safety With Depleted Staff, Slower Response Times

In March, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) signed an overwhelmingly unpopular anti-union bill into law that stripped the state’s employees of almost all of their collective bargaining rights. While Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) more infamous union-busting law in Wisconsin actually let police officers and firefighters off the hook, the Washington Independent notes that Kasich’s law forces these public safety workers to beg for the resources they need to do their jobs.

Jay McDonald, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Ohio, says that if SB 5 is not repealed, about 51,000 public employees across the state could lose their jobs — two-thirds of them public safety workers:

The inability to bargain in any meaningful way could affect public safety in Ohio in a myriad of ways, McDonald said.

“It prohibits police officers and firefighters from talking to their employers about staffing,” he said. “It’ll be politicians that are making the decision on how many people are on a fire truck or how many police officers are working through a shift as opposed to the experts that know the needs of their community.”[…]

Less police on the beat could mean increased crime rates while fewer firefighters in stations across the state could add to response times in emergencies.

Without the ability to negotiate for staffing levels, we lose firefighters. When a call comes in, there’s less firefighters available,” said Carney. “When you reduce staffing you reduce the availability of people to be able to respond to emergencies.”

Under the new law, cops and firefighters can only bargain for (i.e. request) the personal safety equipment they need to protect themselves and others, but management — which often focuses on cost-cutting — could ultimately have the final say. McDonald calls the reduced position of public safety works “collective begging” that makes them completely dependent on the benevolence of bureaucrats — an unacceptable situation when lives are at stake.

It’s far from a given that management will automatically approve requests for safety equipment. In fact, in the past, state troopers had to go through a bitter arbitration process to force the state to install shields that would keep patrol vehicles from exploding — a defect that killed three officers.

Chris Weaver, vice president of the Youngstown Professional Fire Fighters Local 312, puts it bluntly: “If Senate Bill 5 becomes law, safety is going to be limited. We won’t be able to sit down and negotiate proper safety equipment that will protect us and protect the community.” Ohio voters will have the ability to repeal Kasich’s anti-union law through a statewide referendum on November 8.