About 65 students and professors attended a “teach-in” on Senate Bill 5 in the governance chambers yesterday.
The panel of speakers included Deborah Smith, the grievance committee chair for Kent State’s chapter of American Association of University Professors, Amy Hanauer, Policy Matters Ohio’s executive director and Vernon Sykes, current state representative and political science professor at Kent State. The panel presented a self-admitted left-wing view in opposition to the bill, which Gov. John Kasich signed into law March 31.
The bill severely curtails collective bargaining for public employees in Ohio. Public unions, including Kent State’s unions, are in the process of collecting 230,000 signatures to get the new law put to a referendum vote this November. If they get the signatures before 90 days have passed, the implementation of SB 5 will be put off until after the vote in November.
One concern raised by the panel was a section that redefines faculty who participate in shared governance through organizations like Faculty Senate and advisory committees as management.
“There seems to be little doubt that there seems to be a national trend to curtail and erode faculty governance at institutions across the nation,” Smith said.
Political science professor Jamie Callender said he thought faculty governance would actually be strengthened by SB 5. He said currently union contracts dictate many aspects of life at Kent State that he believes should be debated by everyone at the university.
“Taking it out of the labor agreement and putting it into the public forum would allow more faculty and even parents (of students) to have a voice,” Callender said.
Smith said she agreed to a point because many universities have faculty governance without collective bargaining.
“The problem is with SB 5 we lose the guarantee of a faculty voice,” Smith said.
SB 5 could lead to increased legal costs for the university. Smith said her position, as grievance chair at AAUP, would disappear.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have to talk faculty out of filing lawsuits because they don’t have a leg to stand on,” Smith said. “I have no doubt that faculty can find lawyers who are willing to take their money.”
Hanauer said Republicans portray SB 5 as a tool to help local governments cut their spending and get their budgets under control. She sees the bill as an attempt to mask steep cuts in Kasich’s budget.
“To make that a little bit more palatable, we’re going to say you can cut your employees wages,” Hanauer said. “The problem with that is if we start cutting people’s wages, it’s only going to reduce money in our local economies.”
Smith echoed this sentiment and said Kent State is the largest employer in Portage County, and SB 5 doubles health care costs for the lowest wage earners at the university.
“We have chosen through collective bargaining to subside the cost of health care of the lowest-paid employees,” Smith said.
Health care contributions are based on a percentage of an employee’s salary, but SB 5 raises the contribution of all public employees to 15 percent. Smith said for most professors this will mean little to no change, but for maintenance workers and secretaries the hikes would be much higher.
“The lower the salary the greater the increase in health care cost under SB 5,” Smith said.
After the event, Derek Spencer, senior international relations major, said his opinion on the bill hadn’t swayed.
“I think I’m still unsure right now if it’s going to be a good thing or a bad thing,” Spencer said.
Contact Anna Staver at [email protected]