While charter schools in Ohio outsource their teaching responsibilities to low wage immigrants, traditional schools in Ohio are forcing teachers to accept impoverishing salary and benefits cuts, or face an end to collective bargaining.
In Huber Heights on Thursday, the school board approved 2-year contracts with teachers and classified staff members that freeze wages and require members to pay more for their health insurance. The Dayton Daily News reports that they currently pay 10%. Under the new agreements, the cost will go up to 13% next year, and 15% the following year. The new contract avoids the new collective bargaining rules of SB 5, since it was fast tracked in before the July 1 deadline. Similar sellout contracts were negotiated by teachers unions in Centerville, Vandalia, Lebanon and other districts.
Average teacher salaries in Huber Heights are already extremely low, averaging only $48,600 to $53,100 per year, according to the Teacher Salary Info website. However, beginning teachers only earn $27,000-$33,000. A wage freeze is a de facto wage cut since the cost of living continues to rise, while income does not. However, additional payroll deductions for health care could translate into an actual decline in take home pay of several thousand dollars.
SB 5 bans collective bargaining for public sector workers except for salaries. It also forces them to pay 15% of their health care costs. So, in this respect, the Huber Heights sellout contract was consistent with the new law. However, SB 5 goes much further, mandating merit pay for teachers based on student test scores; eliminating binding arbitration; easing rules on union decertification; prohibiting automatic dues check-off (payroll deductions for union dues); and prohibiting strikes (see “Ohio’s Senate Bill 5,” on the Cleveland.com website).
Considering how overwhelming these attacks are on union power, it is not surprising that unions should want to avoid them by fast-tracking through contracts before the law takes effect. However, the concessions they make now are unlikely to ever be restored. Furthermore, they signal the unions’ weakness and their unwillingness to take a stand and fight, giving lawmakers and the ruling elite the confidence to increase their attacks without fear of any sort of meaningful or effective resistance.
Of course the unions are fighting back and have launched a campaign to repeal SB 5. They have already gathered over 90% of the signatures necessary to get their measure on the ballot, while Ohioans support its repeal by a 54%-31% margin (see Daily Kos). However, the main concern of union leaders is the preservation of the automatic due check off, which guarantees a steady source of revenue for their six-figure salaries and the purchasing of their political friendships, not the living standards and working conditions of their members, and certainly not those of workers in other industries and unions.
Even if they succeed in repealing SB 5, Ohio will continue to have budget deficits which will be used to demand salary, pension and benefit concessions from their public sector unions and the ruling elite will continue to try to crush all vestiges of unionism. Indeed, what has been happening in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and across the U.S. is simply the latest phase of a class war that has existed since the beginning of capitalism, in which the bosses increase their profits and wealth by keeping taxes and wages low and by weakening workers’ power. All of the state and federal budget deficits are due to historically low tax rates for the wealthy and their businesses, as well as entitlements to business (and war, in the case of the feds). To keep taxes low and wealth acquisition high, the state requires workers to pay for the deficits. In the private sector, workers are paying, too, by being forced to work harder, faster and longer, without any increase in income, despite record corporate profits.
Fighting to protect collective bargaining is a meaningless fight if it is not used to win improvements in working conditions and living standards. However, even when unions are proactive, and try to bargain favorable conditions for their members, they are unlikely to succeed in their negotiations unless they can convincingly threaten to strike. Work stoppages, work to rule, sick outs, and other job actions are the only effective weapons workers have. When workers routinely strike, like in France, it makes it clear to the ruling elite that they are organized, militant and willing to take job actions. Therefore, simply threatening to strike is sometimes all it takes to win concessions from the bosses. In the U.S., where strikes are rare, and teacher strikes are exceedingly rare, there is no reason for bosses or politicians to take workers’ demands seriously. Getting workers to understand and accept this and to be willing to take job actions requires a lot of organizing, something that most large unions have relinquished in favor of lobbying, campaign financing and sleeping with the enemy.