Report: Central Ohio to save if union bill passes

Published 9:45 am Monday, March 7, 2011

Healthcare, pension costs could go down by $74M

COLUMBUS (AP) — Counties, cities and school districts in Central Ohio could eliminate about $74 million in health care and pension costs with the passage of a bill that would reduce the bargaining ability of public employee unions, a newspaper analysis shows.

The Columbus Dispatch based its findings on the 2010 budgets of seven counties and county seats and seven school districts, employing a total of about 37,400 workers.

The savings represents about 1.1 percent of the combined budgets. The newspaper also reviewed numbers at the region’s two largest colleges. Statewide, the bill would affect about 350,000 unionized public workers, including police officers, firefighters, teachers and university employees.

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Among its findings reported Sunday, The Dispatch said Columbus would have saved about $50 million, including about $42 million if it did away with contributions to employee pensions. Costs would be unchanged for Ohio State University and Columbus State Community College.

The newspaper reached its numbers by asking officials how budgets would change under the bill’s requirement that government workers pay at least 15 percent of health plan costs and its ban on agencies paying employees’ obligation to pensions.

The change in pension rules would affect 20 of the non-college agencies; the change in health care costs would affect 12.

But the proposals wouldn’t necessarily lead to the savings calculated because unions would attempt to bargain for pay increases to help offset benefits employees lose, said Jim Gilbert, president of the Columbus police union. Gilbert said the city has previously agreed to pay employees’ share of pensions instead of raising pay.

Similarly in the South-Western schools, the district pays a total of about $1 million in pension obligations for about 100 administrators, and Treasurer Hugh Garside said the benefit has been negotiated over the past 15 years, mostly instead of larger pay raises.

Ohio State would see no cost savings because the university doesn’t pay any portion of employee pensions and employees now pay 17 percent of health care costs. Spokesman Jim Lynch said officials don’t believe they’d have to change anything to comply with the bill.

The bill has drawn pro-labor protesters who oppose its enactment to the Statehouse in droves. It passed through the Senate last week by a 17-16 vote and still must go through the GOP-led House. Republican Gov John Kasich has said he would sign the bill, and it has been pitched as a remedy to the state’s projected $8 billion budget shortfall.

Under the bill, unionized public workers could negotiate wages, hours and certain work conditions but not health care or pension benefits. It also would ban strikes by public workers and establish penalties for those who do participate in walkouts.