For the moment and the foreseeable future, the political chasm and rampant partisanship evident across the country is being embodied and exemplified to the extreme here in Ohio — where Republicans and Democrats are putting on their gloves to duke it out over unions and collective bargaining rights.
As federal and state governments struggle to deal with budget deficits reaching monumental proportions, voters and legislators in Ohio continue polarization into their respective camps over issues surrounding Senate Bill 5.
Further fueling partisan fires, media outlets reduce complicated issues to sound clips, and cameras pan over raging protests as union leaders bark about attacks on the working class.
Private sector workers face economic woes, and non-union taxpayers shake their heads at teachers they see working only half the year.
Amidst all the charged rhetoric and banter, Gov. John Kasich points his finger at high health care costs and public employee pensions as major fiscal problems for the state.
“If we do not get a handle on pensions, if we do not get a handle on health care, a lot of these employees could ultimately be left high and dry, and I do not want to see that happen,” Kasich said in an interview with John King, CNN’s chief national correspondent.
Ohio’s Democratic representatives vow to take up arms, fight the bill and protect the working class.
“The Ohio Constitution allows for a citizens’ veto, and if I have to travel the state and have ‘No on SB 5′ rallies, I’ll do it,” said state Sen. Joe Schiavoni shortly after the bill passed in the Senate on March 2.
It is important to understand that the parties and interests involved have deeply seeded roots of hostility and mistrust toward one other.
National labor unions formed in the early-1900s typically supported Democrats. Throughout the years, the trend has persisted, pitting Republicans against unions.
“There is a distinctive union vote in American national elections, with union members and their families more likely to vote Democratic than those without union affiliation,” according to a study conducted by the Political Research Quarterly.
The political benefits connected to securing union votes have translated into unions holding a very powerful bargaining card when it comes to legislation and influence on government.
The powerful influence unions have wielded for the past 40 or so years has led to taxpayer outrage, voter backlash and ultimately a sticky situation.
The struggle between Republicans and Democrats reflects a much greater sway in the national political pendulum and has vast implications for Ohio’s political future.
The line in the sand has been drawn at collective bargaining. Although unions were prepared to make financial concessions, the governor refused to end his attack on collective bargaining. Because of his refusal, Democrats all but abandoned the legislative process, submitting no amendments to the bill they wanted scrapped. So now we sit at an impasse with no signs of compromise.
William Rodgers, a former chief economist for the U.S. Department of Labor and now a professor at Rutgers University, noted the lack of cooperation and said it won’t turn out well for either party involved.
“It’s a two way-street. Everybody is a stakeholder in this, and everybody needs to be accountable. There needs to be less political drama and more thought about how to make future agreements workable for states, their employees and the taxpayers,” Rodgers said.
Jim Cartwright, whose father was a 30-year member of the steelworkers’ union in Youngstown, expressed a similar, more “middle of the road” approach to the situation in a letter to the Vindicator.
“I believe any employer, including the government, whose employees organize, gave them reason to do so. I believe any employee who thinks that union membership entitles them to dictate the strategic course of their employer will soon be as underemployed as all the empty land formerly occupied by steel mills along the Mahoning. Both sides must pull their weight or perish together,” Cartwright said.
With Georgia, Virginia, Minnesota, Texas and Kentucky implementing more than half of the performance-boosting recommendations made by their commissioners over the past decade, it would be wise for Ohio’s legislatures to follow suit, sit down and come to an agreement about their policies.
Lenny Mendonca, a senior partner of the McKinsey Global Institute, has spent the past 20 years analyzing productivity and says the problem lies with inefficiency as a whole.
“You need a group focused on delivery. It sounds so generic, but it’s not there now. The problem is not ideas the problem is making it happen,” Mendonca said. “The choice of cut more or tax more is not acceptable. You have to do it better.”
As we go through the next few months listening to union leaders yell about attacks on the middle class and government officials respond with budget woes and finger-pointing, we should remember that the key is cooperation. The only problem is that we are not likely to see any.