Hot topics: public employee unions, state budgets, and libraries

When John R. Kasich (R) was elected governor of Ohio, last fall, over incumbent Ted Strickland (D), almost immediately, I started hearing little whispers about what it could mean to libraries. (I only heard bad things.) As we get closer to the release of a new state budget, more information is starting to become available in a number of areas, including budgets and legislation.

For instance, this webcast was given by Lynda Murray, Director of Government and Legal Services, Ohio Library Council, on January 24th. Like many other Ohio librarians anxious for news of what’s going to happen to our libraries, I tuned in. It was a sort of “this is what we know so far” kind of talk. I hope she gives more of these, especially as more concrete information becomes available. I found it very useful to have the information distilled and dispatched in this way.

The state budget isn’t due out for a while yet, and it isn’t required to be signed until June 30, so I think we probably still have a ways to go before we know anything definitive on that front.

However, I guess things are already starting to ramp up in the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate, regarding some hot topic issues that will affect libraries. I opened my email this morning and found the latest e-newsletter from the Ohio Library Council, mentioning 5 bills they have their eye on: HB 3 (estate tax); HB 69 (public pension reform); HB 88 (public library legal counsel); SB 3 (also public pension reform); and SB 5 (collective bargaining unit reform).

I have been hearing about the public pension reforms (HB 69 and SB 3) for a while now. There have already been several emails from OPERS (our pension plan at the library). Now, I’m all for retirement plans actually being able to sustain themselves, but I also disagree with changing the rules of the game on people, part-way through. Guess we’ll all just have to wait and see what happens with that and hope for the best. I sure don’t claim to have the answer.

Also in my inbox this morning was an email from the president of our union (DMLSA), regarding SB 5 (the one about collective bargaining unit reforms). SB 5 would “amend…enact…and repeal” various sections of the Ohio Revised Code “to make various changes to laws concerning public employees, including collective bargaining, salary schedules and compensation, layoff procedures, and leave” (view SB 5 in its entirety).

The email from the union president alerted those of us who were not already aware (like me), that “the State Legislature is working on a bill that would take away our right to collectively bargain,” and urged us “to consider the benefits of collective bargaining” and contact our legislators accordingly.

I appreciated the fact that the union’s email made an effort to acknowledge that some people (even among union members) are more pro-union than others and made its case to both sides. [For those who may not know, library employees – at least at our library – either pay union dues, if they are in the union, or a “fair share fee” of the same amount, if they choose not to be in the union: so that’s how you get people who may not be particularly pro-union who are in a union. They take the same fee out of your paycheck either way, so you might as well be in it.]

The union question is definitely a hot topic. Check out this poll at the Columbus Dispatch, asking whether collective bargaining should be eliminated for state workers. At the time of this writing, 81% of the 432 poll respondents had voted “No.” I wonder how many of them are public employees themselves?

Anyhow… And so begins the season of everyone at the library being all spun up about budgets and legislation and wondering what’s going to happen next. We have a union contract negotiation coming up this summer, on top of all the probably-inevitable changes due to budget cuts and new legislation. I don’t know what the weather’s going to be, but it’s sure looking like another long, hot summer.

Okay… I think that’s about all the politics I can handle for right now.

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