Ohio voters to decide bargaining rights for public employees

Echoing Wisconsin and other states, Ohio is considering a law that would limit public employees' collective bargaining rights. The measure, pushed by Republican Gov. John Kasich, faces a referendum vote.

By , Staff writer

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    Walter Hudson of Toledo protests Senate Bill 5 at the Ohio statehouse in Columbus in March. The bill, which would strip public employees of many collective bargaining rights, will be voted on in a referendum next Tuesday.
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Ohio voters on Tuesday will decide whether to uphold a controversial labor law designed to change the face of the public-sector labor force in the state.

If passed, the new law will replace a 28-year-old collective bargaining law with a new version that restricts the bargaining terms for the state’s nearly 400,000 public employees, prohibits strikes, and gives management the final say on such topics as health insurance.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) signed Senate Bill 5 into law in late March to replace the 1983 law with one he said would close the state’s budget gap and save the state $8 billion.

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Opponents cried foul, saying the bill’s true purpose is to weaken unions, a charge made often in Wisconsin earlier this year when that state’s Republican leadership pushed through a similar bill that brought hundreds of thousands of people to the state capital to protest for weeks.

National attention on the issue is corresponding to the money filtering into the state from special-interest groups.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, We Are Ohio, a national labor group opposing the bill, is leading the money drive, having raised $19 million since July. Building a Better Ohio, a group advocating the law, raised $7.6 million in that same period.

Building a Better Ohio and other groups backing the bill reportedly have ties to billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch and to Mary Cheney, daughter of the former vice president.

Last-minute media blitzes are also spanning the state. This weekend, Ohio voters are receiving robo-calls from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) asking them to uphold the bill. On her Facebook page, Ms. Palin calls herself “a proud former union member” and said the new bill “will help restore fairness to Ohio taxpayers and help balance the budget.”

Polling suggests that public support for both the bill and Governor Kasich is eroding.

The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Conn., released polling results last week that showed the bill failing by a 25-point margin. Last month, the same pollsters showed the bill failing by a 14-point margin. Last week’s poll also showed Kasich’s approval rating at 36 percent, a four-point drop from the earlier poll. His disapproval rating is currently at 52 percent.

The governor held rallies last week throughout the state to galvanize support for the referendum. Talking to reporters Thursday before a rally in Independence, Ohio, he said he understood that passing the bill would not be easy.

“I'm not a guy who goes and hides…. This is a tough, uphill fight,” he said.

Among the measures in the new bill:

—    Public workers are prohibited from striking. Employers are required to deduct twice a day’s pay for each day of a strike, should it occur.

—    Health coverage is excluded from collective bargaining. Management has the authority to decide whether other topics, such as starting and quitting times, and work assignments, can be negotiated.

—    Performance-based pay replaces seniority-based scales. An evaluation system is established for teachers.

—    Performance, not seniority, becomes the main factor in layoffs.

—    Employees must pay at least 15 percent of health insurance costs, and management has the option of bargaining for more. Management also determines benefits.

The law has not taken effect with the referendum pending.

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