A handful of Westerville's public employees gathered in front of Fire Station 111 June 16 to share their views against Senate Bill 5, the law to weaken their collective bargaining options.

A handful of Westerville's public employees gathered in front of Fire Station 111 June 16 to share their views against Senate Bill 5, the law to weaken their collective bargaining options.

The gathering was organized by We Are Ohio, the campaign to repeal the bill that was signed into law in March. We Are Ohio is a coalition of union groups and their supporters.

The employees were not on the clock while they spoke.

"It's so wrong what Senate Bill 5 is doing," said Brian Young, a lieutenant in the Westerville Division of Fire. "I always thought the government was here to protect our rights. This takes away our rights."

The employees said while legislators say the bill would allow public union groups to continue to bargain, the law restricts it so far that it really takes the power of collective bargaining away.

Senate Bill 5 would require government employees to pay at least 15 percent of their healthcare costs, would not allow bargaining for staffing levels and many other workplace conditions, would eliminate strikes and binding arbitration, and would allow governments to approve their own settlement disputes.

"The best way for management and labor to be able to work together is to be able to sit down and talk," said firefighter and medic Tom Ullom, who has worked for the Westerville Division of Fire for 35 years. "A lot of the things we've negotiated, we won't be able to talk about if Senate Bill 5 (isn't repealed)."

Ullom said the three unions that represent Westerville's city employees have never had to strike.

"We've always settled our differences at the table," he said.

Westerville City Schools teacher Bethany Morris, whose husband Greg Morris is a Westerville firefighter, said she worries that if teachers aren't allowed to bargain over things such as student-teacher ratio, classrooms will be set back 30 years, when teachers lectured over large classrooms and didn't have time to engage individual children.

"We do our jobs and we do them without complaining, and we get results," Morris said of teachers. "I didn't choose a job where I can get rich. I chose a job where I can serve the kids in my community."

Bethany Morris said she worries that Senate Bill 5 would drive down salaries for her and her husband to the point where they would have to relocate to another state to make a reasonable living.

"People in Westerville need to know that if this passes, we might not be able to stay here," she said.

The unions that represent Westerville city and Westerville school employees have been working together on the We Are Ohio campaign, volunteering to collect signatures for petitions to place a repeal of the law on the November ballot and inputting the data from those petitions into a computer database.

The campaign announced last week that it had collected more than 714,000 signatures, more than triple the amount needed to place the repeal on the ballot.

The Westerville employees said local unions will continue to work on the campaign to see the law repealed in November.

"If this bill passes, I want to tell my grandkids that I did everything I could to stand up for a bill that was wrong," Ullom said.

It's those strong feelings against that bill that have put the employees on the forefront of the battle against Senate Bill 5, as they all said they fear retribution at work for publicly opposing the bill.

"I don't want to be in the spotlight making speeches," Young said. "I just want to do my job."

Westerville city manager Dave Collinsworth said the city respects employees' right to work and to speak against the bill.

"Westerville supports the rights of its employees to communicate their personal opinions on matters of state or federal legislation, but only so long as they are doing so on their own time and not in any official capacity as a city employee," Collinsworth said. " The city understands that Senate Bill 5 is an issue of significant concern to many public employees."

Collinsworth said the city is not taking a stand on the bill's pitfalls or merits but is looking at how Westerville would be affected if the bill is put into law.

"At this point, the city's only concern is getting the matter resolved so that we can ensure the city's compliance and plan for its impact in bargaining and administration," he said. "Right now, there's uncertainty around it, and our desire is to see the uncertainty resolved."