Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ohio falls short of public expectation

Ohio state Senate has passed a bill similar to the one stalled in Wisconsin, but that goes further by also effecting the unions for firefighters and police officers, and impacting nearly double the number of people. State Republicans narrowly passed the bill, which strips unionized workers of bargaining rights for health benefits and pensions and eliminating their right to strike in order to pressure changes. It also puts the final decision of disputed contracts in the hands of elected officials instead of the groups that are directly involved: the union and the organization handling the contract.

The problem with this bill passing is that it sends a clear message that, despite obvious public opinion to the contrary, State legislatures are willing to strip these rights from unions for small gains in battling deficits. The disinformation being spread by talk radio that the majority of people in this country want these bills to pass serves the same basic function: it causes people to think that there really is an unseen majority out there that aren't being heard or thought of, who aren't demonstrating or talking out, but that believe that unions are a useless waste of money. Never mind that hundreds of thousands of people all across the country have been protesting these measures for weeks. Never mind that it has been clearly demonstrated that these measures are purely partisan politics in nature, designed to undermine the financial base of the democratic party, and that powerful lobbies on the Right have thrown huge amounts of money behind these laws. Never mind that there is not a single public union employee who has come out to say that they want their rights to be limited in order to save a few bucks which, in the long run, won't really save anything.

Speaking with teachers in my area, I get the impression that they are mortally afraid of these laws. The unions protect the meager salaries they receive (Yes, teachers get lots of time off, but they don't get paid for it, meaning they're effectively unemployed for five months out of the year). They compromise for benefits and keeping their health care premiums affordable. They work hard to ensure that the school board does not fire the most experienced, well-paid teachers for cheaper, less experienced alternatives.  Here's a great letter describing the changes that teachers have had to go through in the past several decades.

The law that has passed the Senate in Ohio, and is knocking on the door of legalization in Wisconsin, are deliberate attacks on people who serve vital roles in our community. They are designed to cripple the rights of these most precious national resources and force them into accepting standards that are far below those in the private sector. What happens when a career in teaching is no longer a source of sustainable income or long term benefit? What happens when our educators get no pensions or retirement benefits, no health insurance, no sick days, and are expected to consistently do much better with much less? What happens, in short, when educators are relegated to the level of "financial scapegoat" by our congressmen? Will we simply stop educating our children? Will we demand the public school system be revamped or else shut down? Will we make even more drastic decisions in an effort to shave pennies from deficits that have nothing to do with education spending?

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