Your Story: A Public Employee’s Take on the Collective Bargaining Firestorm

 

Firefighter Kevin Horkan in his official fire department photo

 

Kevin Horkan from Euclid, Ohio is well-trained for an emergency. Next year will be his 30th as a firefighter. He’s a firefighter for the Cleveland Heights Fire Department, a paramedic and was a part-time policeman for 10 years.  Horkan is one of several thousand public employees at the center of the collective bargaining firestorm breaking out all across the Midwest. He’s understanding about people’s animosity towards unions, and pessimistic about their future.

Horkan, 53, is openly disapproving of Ohio Governor John Kasich. But, he says he thinks he knows firefighters and police officers who voted for him. “Democrats gave us what we have, collective bargaining, workers comp…, But, I think a lot of police officers tend to be pretty conservative.

Ohio residents are likely to vote this fall on whether to keep or kill SB5, the new state law limiting a union’s ability to bargain collectively. “I don’t think we’ll have the votes,” Horkin said. “I don’t think there’s enough support to get rid of the law.”

Horkan thinks economic pressure and conservative politics are pushing unions out, but he says he sees it as “a natural swing of the pendulum.”

“Sure, you see union officers being indicted, you read about union members who, back a few years were getting paid really well and not making a very good product,” he said. “And people are struggling. People get tired of it. Attitudes are ‘I want a house too, I want a job too, I want to feed my children’.”

As reflective as Horkan is about the forces that may have sapped union support, he does get a little worked up when asked how a lack of public support makes him feel, personally. “We risk our lives every day for people we don’t even know,” he said. “I would like people to know how my wife feels when I leave the house in the morning. I make $62,000 a year, and I have stability and a pension. Is that too much for what I do every day?”

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