Nearly 330 people crowded the Athens Community Center Saturday to voice their opinions on Senate Bill 5, which would eliminate collective bargaining rights for public sector unions.
In response to the lockout at the statehouse in Columbus last week, Rep. Debbie Phillips (D-92nd) held a town hall meeting at the center, 701 E. State St., to promote an open discussion between proponents and opponents of the bill.
Those who spoke at the meeting and the majority of the people in attendance were opposed to the bill because of the possible negative impact on their jobs and the community.
Matt Conrad, an English teacher at Morgan High School, said eliminating collective bargaining rights would not only impact teachers, but students as well.
"We are with students all day. We know what is hurting our students and we know what needs to be done for them,” Conrad said.
Senator Shannon Jones (R-7) from Springboro introduced the bill Feb. 1 as a possible solution to reducing Ohio’s nearly $8 million budget deficit, according to the proposed legislation.
If voted into law, the bill would prohibit collective bargaining rights for public employees such as teachers, police officers and firefighters, according to the legislation.
Public employees would keep their right to bargain wages, but would lose the right to strike as well.
Proponents of the bill say more balance is needed in Ohio because budget cuts are stacked toward the taxpayers, said Pete Couladis, chairman of the Athens County Republican Party.
“The union contracts are on autopilot and pushing up the cost of government,” Couladis said, adding that such a system is not sustainable and somebody needs to defend the taxpayers.
Proponents also say eliminating collective bargaining would help balance the budget by giving management more flexibility to control costs, Phillips said at the meeting.
Although Phillips said she agrees something needs to be done to reduce the deficit, she does not see evidence that this bill is the best way to achieve it.
“This is an attack on the working middle class of America,” Phillips said. “It brings firefighters, police officers, teachers and other public employees to blame for this country’s financial problems.”
Because the most recent election brought a significant party change in the state legislature, Saturday’s meeting emphasized the theme, “elections have consequences.”
But this bill is more than a debate between Democrats and Republicans.
Tim Lawson, a Republican and a member of the teacher’s union in Meigs County, said he is worried about the negative impact of the bill as well.
“This is not something just heard from the democratic side; this goes beyond that and is something that will hurt all of us,” Lawson said. “We need to let our leaders know that we voted for them and they need to be on our side.”