Friday, March 4, 2011


It was quite the political drama on Wednesday in the Ohio Senate when a few courageous Republicans stood up to Governor Kasich and the Republican leadership of the Ohio General Assembly.

Unfortunately, Stark County Scott Oelslager only showed limited courage in trying to stop Senate Bill 5, introduced by Senator Shannon Jones, from getting out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  He did vote with fellow Senator William J. Seitz (R - from the Cincinnati area) on Judiciary to keep the controversial SB 5 (which dramatically alters state employees rights to collectively bargain) from going to the full Senate.

The GOP leadership then shifted the bill to the Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee, a committee that Oelslager does not sit on.  However, Senator Seitz was again a roadblock.  Along with Republican Jim Hughes voting with four Democrats on the committee, it was blocked 5 to 4 in getting out.  So, the Republican leadership removed Seitz from the committee and replaced him with "tow the party line" state Senator Cliff Hite.

Oelslager did let it be known in a Massillon Independent interview recently, that he opposed SB 5 as it was then comprised.  Obviously, the minor changes made by Kasich et al did not alter Oelslager's view of the bill and he vote against it in a 17 to 16 vote.

Bottom line though is that unless something comes out that it cost Oelslager something politically in the Ohio Senate structure of things - like getting kicked off a committee like what happened to Seitz - then his vote "no" is a play to unions to make them think he will go to the mat for them except that he never goes to the mat for them or for anyone else.  Scott Oelslager is all about appearance and not about legislative substance.

The reason the SCPR assigns Oelslager as being "a run for cover" legislator on this bill in that it appears to The Report that he was "allowed" to vote no on the bill without penalty (unlike Seitz) and that leadership knew - in the ultimate sense (as like Pelosi did with former Congressman John Boccieri on healthcare) - it had the votes to pass the measure.

Another critical factor in the Republican leadership singling Seitz out is that it could not permit the only sponsor of Senate Bill 5 and the Republican Majority Whip Jones to be humiliated in not being able to get her bill out of committee, let alone getting it passed by the full Senate.

If anyone was going to be humiliated, it would be the likes of Seitz and not the Kasich, Neuhaus (Senate president) and Batchhelder (Speaker of the House) Republican leadership team and their handpicked SB 5 point person Shannon Jones who were going to be humiliated.

So if you don't have the votes, you resort to thuggery politics to get your way?  Is that the message that the Republicans want to send to Ohio school children as they learn about our democracy and the millions of civic-minded voters who disdain partisan politics because of how in utterly undemocratic ways that organized Republicans and Democrats handle the levers of power?

If he wishes to remain in the Senate, Oelslager must run again in 2014.  It was important for Oelslager to be permitted to vote "no," inasmuch as organized labor is a highly significant factor in Stark County.  Seitz is term-limited out after this term and therefore did not need a pass.

But Seitz, if he has higher office political aspirations, might well have to face a comeuppance in addition to the humiliation of not being allowed to vote his conscience in committee (where it really mattered).  For if it did not get out of committee, it does not have a chance for a 17 to 16 vote victory.

What follows is a letter to the editor sent by state Senator William J. Seitz (from the Cincinnati area) to the Cincinnati Enquirer on March 1st and published online at

The letter is the most thorough and honest analysis of SB 5 that the SCPR has seen.  It would have been nice if Stark County's representative (Republican Scott Oelslager) would have had the political moxie to do the same for Stark Countians by writing a similar letter to area media. 

While both are Republicans, Seitz stands heads and shoulder above Oelslager in articulation skills and political courage.

Here is Seitz's letter:
For most, the question's not whether public sector collective bargaining law needs reform; it's how best to do it. The 1983 Ohio law creating it hasn't been materially revised in 27 years. Dire fiscal straits alone compel us to seek reform now.

Senate Bill 5, as proposed by its lone sponsor, went well beyond what Wisconsin's governor is doing in the Badger State. SB 5 restricts police and fire bargaining; Wisconsin does not. SB 5 mandates all employees to pay 20 percent of healthcare costs; Wisconsin's bill asks only 12.6 percent. Wisconsin's bill asks public employees to pay 5% of salary towards their pension; Ohio law already imposes far greater requirements on public employees. SB 5 bars collective bargaining by state and university employees (provisions from which the sponsor is apparently retreating); I ask how repeal equates to reform.

Numerous provisions of this 470 page bill are long overdue:

• Disallowing unelected arbitrators from making binding decisions adversely affecting taxpayers is a public imperative.

• Resetting the management rights button, by eliminating requirements that permissive subjects of bargaining become mandatory future subjects of bargaining merely because of their presence in some previous contract, is a fine idea.

• No longer should management decisions be bargained merely because they "affect" working conditions; this doctrine freezes management flexibility against mid-term changes without union assent.

• The public employer should have the right to communicate directly with employees after presenting its offer to the union, rather than trusting the union leaders to properly inform members of the terms thereof.

• Prioritizing the factors that fact finders and mediators should consider is necessary: The first and primary factor must be on the employer's ability to pay. We need to impose firm timelines for when bargaining impasse occurs.

• The whole process needs the public transparency that SB 5 creates.

• Tightly defined conditions of fiscal emergency should justify reopening future collective bargaining contracts: The taxpayer's wallet is not infinite, and the state cannot declare bankruptcy.

However, we must avoid overreach. We can prohibit bargaining over healthcare benefits, as the bill proposes - but only if we amend it to ensure that union members are offered the same options as management offers itself. If we ban bargaining over staffing levels and workplace equipment, we must make an exception for safety services and nurses whose work is ultra-hazardous. I wouldn't want Cincinnati City Council to leave policemen unprotected and inadequately armed just because they needed more money to construct their trolley. Some level of protection against layoff must be preserved for employees with over 20 years of service, whose entire retirement depends on earning their public pension, and who do not qualify for Social Security or have other retirement assets because they staked their career on the promised pension benefits.

If public employees cannot strike, and if there is no binding arbitration, there must be some way of determining an agreement. The bill is flawed because it says the employees' only rights in that case are to work under a perpetual wage freeze, with management dictating the outcome. This reduces collective bargaining to a sham. The public employer has no incentive to agree if, by disagreeing, it can unilaterally do what it wants. Let's be honest: poor management is just as responsible as overzealous unions for the current mess. For example, City Council hired over 100 new police a few years ago (against Chief Streicher's advice) and now complains its payroll costs have increased too much.

A new version of SB 5 is being prepared in secret. I have no idea of its contents. Above all, I have learned my Tea Party lessons from the Obamacare debate. I'm not going to "pass the bill so we know what's in it", as former Speaker Pelosi urged her colleagues to do. Neither will I support a bill without taking time to read and understand it. We should expect no less from Republican majorities than we demanded of Democrat ones.

William J. Seitz of Green Township, a Republican, represents Ohio's 8th District in the state Senate.

No comments: