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SB 5 signed, still sparks debate

Though Gov. John Kasich signed Senate Bill 5 Thursday after weeks of frequently protested hearings, the debate continues about how the bill will affect the 360,000 Ohio residents currently in public sector unions and students going into these fields.

The new law limits the collective bargaining rights of employees in public sector unions and changes the current system to a merit-based system of cuts.

Charlie Wilson, a professor and labor law specialist at the Ohio State Moritz College of Law, said the only employment field that will truly benefit from SB 5 is the legal profession, referring to it as the “Lawyers’ Full Employment Act of 2011.”

Wilson said that though the current seniority-based system is flawed, the merit-based system of cuts is not strongly defined and will result in costly lawsuits for the school districts.

“It’s going to be a great statute for lawyers overall because there’s going to be all kinds of individual suits,” Wilson said. “Right now, the good thing about collective bargaining is that all this is resolved in mediation and arbitration, which very, very rarely involves lawyers, and it’s done cheaply and expeditiously.”

Aside from students joining the legal profession, Wilson said SB 5 has the potential to drive many students out of Ohio after graduation, especially those in the teaching and education fields, citing other states who have done away with collective bargaining for teachers.

“In North Carolina it is illegal for teachers to engage in collective bargaining, and North Carolina has a very hard time getting teachers,” Wilson said. “They come up to Ohio all the time and offer big bonuses to try to get teachers down there. This is going to make it very, very difficult to attract teachers.”

Dave Grabaskas, a second-year Ph.D. candidate in nuclear engineering and Midwest Director for the non-partisan political group Young Americans for Liberty, said the majority of SB 5 is a step in the right direction for curbing state costs, but the new law is not perfect. He also said it will not be as negative as many fear.

“Whether this will actually drive teachers out of Ohio is debatable,” Grabaskas said. “The merit-based cuts will give new teachers an advantage over the teachers that have been there for 30 years. It’s going to be messy, but the seniority system now is also messy.”

Rob Nichols, spokesperson for Kasich, said the impacts of SB 5 for students are far from negative and the livelihood of future teachers will not depend on this new law, but on the individual choices of Ohio’s school districts.

“The fact of the matter is that they’re still allowed to bargain for wages and still allowed to bargain over working conditions,” Nichols said. “If the district wishes to pay them more, they’ve always had that opportunity.”

This sentiment is not shared by those in OSU’s teaching program who fear this new law could mean the end of their career before it even begins.

Zach Jensen, a third-year in middle childhood education, said the new limitations make him wary of his future and he is considering leaving the program if the new law stays in place.

“With SB 5 I don’t know if I’m going to be doing it anymore,” Jensen said. “It’s something that I’ve wanted to do all along and I enjoy working with kids, but when it comes down to it, it might have to change.”

Despite fears and criticisms, the governor’s office is confident that this new law is in the best interest of students.

“The fact of the matter is that this is just one piece of an overall package to turn Ohio’s economy around,” Nichols said. “For anyone still in school, the best thing that they can hope for is an economy that isn’t bleeding out jobs every year. Everyone does better in a rising tide.”

SB 5 is poised to go to the ballots in November for a public vote, Wilson said, something that Jensen and Cooper said they were eager to vote against if given the opportunity. 

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