Getting to the Bottom of SB 5: Ohio’s Collective Bargaining Law

Union members rally at the Ohio Statehouse for a vote on SB 5. Photo courtesy of OPR.


You may have heard about that controversial bill in Ohio that limits public workers’ collective bargaining rights. It was signed into law Thursday night by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and it’s one of several new laws affecting unions that have popped up in our region. Dan Bobkoff and Ida Lieszkovszky of the Changing Gears team wanted to get beyond the rhetoric and answer why some of these provisions are in Senate Bill 5 in the first place.





First, a quick review of what this new law does.

  • It does not get rid of union negotiations completely, but it limits them. Union members will no longer be able to negotiate for benefits.
  • It also ditches binding arbitration.
  • It makes striking by union members illegal.
  • It puts a greater emphasis on merit versus seniority when it comes to promotions.

Whether you agree or disagree with all that, the debate has been contentious.

Union members see the issue as one that could “break the backs” of unions and “take away the voice of the people.” Ohio Senator Shannon Jones, who wrote the bill, says, “Most importantly, it is not an attack on the middle class.”

Protestors listen to Democratic lawmakers following the passage of SB 5 in the Ohio House. Photo courtesy of OPR.

But there are other views. Mike Bell has been the mayor of Toledo for a little over a year now.
He said, “There’s a lot of rhetoric to this. but for me, I’m just looking for some basic things. I’m not trying to hurt anybody.”

Bell is an independent. He says he used to be a firefighter: “I was not only a firefighter. I was a laid off firefighter. I was the fire chief. I was the state fire marshall. And, now I’m the mayor.”

Basically, he’s been on all sides of the table. When he took office, the city had no money, but it had expensive contracts with its police unions that he couldn’t change. There were restrictions that said the city could not assign a police officer to a different shift. That’s what his predecessor tried to do; reassign police to the afternoon or night shift. Now the city is facing a $500,000 fine for breach of contract.

Bell says that controversy didn’t leave the mayor with many options. “The only solution that the chief would have had was to leave those shifts blank–meaning we wouldn’t have a third shift or a partial second shift.” Alternatively, he could “call back the 75 police officers who were laid off, which created a financial problem.”

Democratic Representative Robert Hagan speaks to union member after the protest. Photo courtesy of OPR.

Under the old rules, Bell said it’s a no-win situation. He’s not anti-union and does not love everything in Senate Bill 5, but he is grateful the law allows him to “push a reset button.”

With Senate Bill 5 becoming law, he would be able to throw out a contract when the city is in a financial crisis. When Bell was a laid off firefighter many years ago, he said he learned it’s better to take some cuts in benefits or pay than lose your job. And, he’s more than happy to negotiate a better contract for the public workers when the city sees better times.

And then there’s Hugh Quill. He is all for taking health care benefits off the negotiating table completely. He says; “taxpayers really don’t care how we get the best price with the best plan.”

Quill is a Democrat who does consulting work for the public sector. He does not support all of what makes up Senate Bill 5. However, he thinks changes to public workers’ health care is a good thing. He said, “It’s a hugely volatile item in the budget of any local government, of any school, of any college and university.”

Under the new law, all public workers are getting the same health benefits, instead of the old system in which every school district and police department would bargain for its own plan. Quill says bargaining on behalf of 50,000 people gives the state more leverage to get a good deal with health care companies than bargaining for a local union of perhaps 500 people.

Senate Bill 5 also requires public employees to contribute at least 15 percent of their health care plans. Now, many pay little or nothing.

We also talked to Julie Schafer, the School Board President for the Copley-Fairlawn school district about 45 minutes south of Cleveland. She says unions will sometimes bully school boards by threatening to go on strike. But she says this bill would “give more freedom to negotiations and that’s really what’s necessary. There needs to be more latitude to be able to do what’s in the best interests of students and taxpayers.”

Schafer says she is skeptical this bill will have a long life after being signed by Ohio Governor John Kasich. Unions are already gathering signatures to challenge the bill. They hope to get enough to put a referendum on the ballot this November. Both sides are already campaigning.


All of this sounds very similar to what happened in 1958, when Republicans tried to make Ohio a right-to-work state, but then opponents put it on the ballot, where it was defeated.

Greg Saltzman, a professor at Albion College in Michigan and an expert on the region’s labor history. says the same might take place today. “Certainly, it’s a high risk strategy.”

Saltzman says that Ohio has been on a kind of see-saw when it comes to public sector union rights. Strikes were banned in 1947, except that there were actually more strikes when they were technically illegal. Then in 1983, public sector unions officially got the right to collectively bargain and strike. The number of strikes dropped. .

Professor Saltzman says we’re going through an interesting period. “Wisconsin, Ohio and other states that are taking away bargaining rights that have already been granted, that’s really quite unusual.”

He says the last time this happened on a national basis was back in 1947. Now this issue is spreading across the region, and the country.


Timeline by Ida Lieszkovszky.

18 Replies to “Getting to the Bottom of SB 5: Ohio’s Collective Bargaining Law”

  1. While some things about the bargaining system could stand an update, the unions have shown a willingness to bend–unlike the governor and his henchmen. Many of these ‘new’ ideas like no striking,, paying 15% of health insurance premiums have been in effect in current contracts for years already. They are nothing new. The republicans are acting as if the unions have been recalcitrent in accepting such measures. We already have.We have saved the state over $250 millions in just the past two years with no raises, no step increases, giving 4-6% of our salary back, and paying more into our retirement plans. We can plainly see it is not the money that is motivating these people. It is simply breaking unions and cutting off financial support of democratic candidate in the next round of elections. Let us all pray for survival of our country and not slide nto a third world status.

  2. This type of anti-labor law and massive budget cuts is hurting Republicans badly in the pols. Se more at

  3. Good to know that CPN has jumped on the GOP bandwagon on who to blame for the bad economy. Certainly not Kasich and his buddies at Lehman Brothers. Working class people didn’t put this state in an $8B hole. Why are we being asked to bear the whole burden for digging us out of it? Instead of aspiring to pull union members down into poverty, why aren’t we demanding that the working poor get pulled up and out? Adding some more yacht buyers to the .5% who hold all the wealth isn’t going to help Ohio’s economy. Making sure regular people can pay their mortgages and heating bills and buy their families food will.

  4. The report was by Changing Gears. We encourage our commenters to use their real names. Would you like to let us know who you are and your affiliation?

  5. You Union people are a joke, I have been at my job for 8 yrs and only make 12$ an hr. And my health ins payments have tripled since tha train wreck OBAMA took office. Union employee’s make im guessing a min 25 thats 50k+ a year and pay very little into your heath care and do nothing but cry still. When real workers cry and moan we get fired for not doing our jobs. FireFighters, Police and Teachers are the only ones who should be exempt from SB-5, all you pencil pushers at a desk with your high pay need to quit complaining and focus on keeping your jobs, cause there are a lot of people who arent working that would do your job for less money and pay for there ins just to if you Union cry babies can raise 7million

  6. All of us need to take 2 giant steps back, we all need to do our part to make the US the PowerHouse it once was. We all have grown so money hungry and greedy. We need to stop all the crying and complaining. Complain about our broken welfare system that give the healthy lazy should be at work people our hard earned money and food for free. While the people who really deserve it ( Elderly, disabled, tax payers who work 1 or 2 jobs, vetrans) lose everything.

  7. 7 million dollars raised to fight SB-5, I think union workers can afford to pay a little more on your ins and go a year or 2 without a raise, heck I know people that have worked at same job for 5 years and have never got a raise and the company doesnt offer ins. union workers should ask there bosses and execs to quit giving each other million dollar bonuses, then mabye your heads would be off the choping block. But that will never happen because they couldnt pay for the 5 houses they own, or the 3 bentleys, his 2 mistresses would rat him out if there bills didnt get paid. Like I said before fire fighters, police, and teachers are the only ones that should exempt from SB-5, the rest of you sell your summer home in hawaii, get rid of a car or 2, your 16 year old doesnt need that porche. And just thank the lord above your not jobless, homeless, and eating out of a food pantry, because people that deserve better are and they dont complain because

  8. America will never be like a third word country Just because there trying to break up a already spoiled Union (Unions should only help police,fire fighters, and teachers. The rest of you just need to quit complaining. It is not the end of life as you know it just because your Union gets thrown in the trash were it belongs. I think union workers think there better than all other workers. You all are like babies in a way, babies cry when they dont get there way but still have to stay where they are. When union workers dont get there way they complain, walk out on the companies and go on strike until they get what they want. This is why they need to break unions, there are alot of people out of work that would do the job for less money, and be willing to pay 20% of the ins, just to have a job and ins. Those people cant wait for the companies you work for to can you for walkin out and going on strike.

  9. this is not for all unions, just public workers. Therefor your statement of “firefighters, police and teachers unions being exempt” would have no merit, because they are public workers. any way I dont know about you but the average union worker that I know does not but “their” 16 year old a porsche, or own a summer home in hawii, and drive a bentley, or have 2 mistresses. I do agreee that the salary of union heads is ridiculous in some cases. but this isnt always the case.

  10. Your health care is messed up because the Republicans in Congress modified what Obama wanted…I realize you live in Ohio, but read, get some education!! 

  11. No, you my friend are a joke. Tea baggers & republicans have your uneducated a** thinking that just because you make a piss poor wage that everybody should make the same. You are just jealous of what everybody else makes. Did you take any classes to put yourself in a better money bracket? I bet not, it’s just easier to piss & moan about someone elses wages then try to better yourself. The reason we go union is because we don’t get fired for (cry and moan) The non tax paying rich and gov. Kashole just love dummy’s like you pal, hearing you whine is like music to their ears as they feel the rich are too poor and the poor are too rich. Wake up you big dummy and get an IQ test before you vote

  12. Your reply is so full of improper use of the English language that it is hard to believe you even know how to read and write! the use of”there”in place of”their” is,  at best, a third grade error.  If you intend to comment on issues, at least try to use the proper grammar. Your rant is , in itself, nothing more than an attempt to appear informed while, all the time, merely spouting off the mantra of the anti-unionists.

  13. not all public employees have  taken  cuts  and many of the things you are referring to. and all the sb5 does concerning donations,is that you as an employee have to ask for the donations taken out instead of the union doing it for you,  like to know how many have read the sb5, because most public employees i have talked haven’t given me one talking point that was true concerning sb5, i have gotten online and looked thru it and read thru it, wow glad i don’t have to do it for a living.  but many are believing hearsay. it will take money from unions in the form of employees who don’t want to be in the union, where they can’t make them pay dues anyway. and it gives the worker more power, if they don’t like the way the union or organization representing them is doing their job, they can get rid of them and if so desire get another union or organization to represent them.

  14. All the benefits public employees receive were negotiated by political leaders in past years. By tying health care and pension contributions to excusing future political leaders from negotiating simply shows that proponents think politicians “folded” in the past and can’t be trusted to negotiate in the future. Why else put the two issues, payroll contribution and future negotiations, in one issue?

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