Ohio House OKs Collective Bargaining Limits

Posted on behalf of Cox Law Office, LLC

Article By ANN SANNER of THE ASSOCIATED PRESS March 30, 2011

Labor stronghold Ohio assumed center stage Wednesday in the battle over collective bargaining rights for public workers as the state Legislature was poised to send to the governor a bill that was in some ways tougher than that seen in Wisconsin.

The measure awaited likely passage in the Republican-controlled state Senate on Wednesday evening after it earlier cleared the GOP-led House on a 53-44 vote.

Chants of “Shame on you!” quickly broke out from onlookers in the House balcony after the vote there.

About 150 protesters then filtered into the Senate chamber, singing “We shall not be moved” and shouting “Power to the people!”

Unlike Wisconsin’s measure, the Ohio legislation would extend union restrictions to police officers and firefighters.

But the overall response by protesters in the Rust Belt state, despite its long union tradition among steel and auto workers, has paled in comparison to Wisconsin, where protests topped more than 70,000 people. Ohio’s largest Statehouse demonstrations on the measure drew about 8,500 people.

That difference has been attributed to Madison’s labor legacy and the proximity of the populous University of Wisconsin campus to the state capital.

Standing in the Ohio Statehouse Rotunda after the House vote Wednesday, union steelworker Curt Yarger said he saw the bill as “a preliminary attack on working people.”

“I shouldn’t have any disillusion that I’ll be next in the private sector,” said Yarger, 43, of Mansfield.

Leo Geiger, a Republican who works as a sewer inspector for the city of Dayton and didn’t attend protests because he couldn’t take the time off, said he’s “deathly afraid that this is going to affect me, my family and the entire state of Ohio in an incredibly negative way.”

Geiger, 34, called the bill and the way it has moved through the Legislature “completely un-American” and said he believes it has more to do with “political payback” than the budget.

“I find this to be loathsome,” he said Wednesday night. “I find this to be disrespectful to Ohioans and disrespectful to the process of Democracy.”

On Wednesday, an estimated 700 people went to the Ohio Statehouse to hear the debate.

The Ohio measure affects safety workers, teachers, nurses and a host of other government personnel. It allows unions to negotiate wages but not health care, sick time or pension benefits. It gets rid of automatic pay increases, and replaces them with merit raises or performance pay. Workers would also be banned from striking.

Republican Gov. John Kasich has said his $55.5 billion, two-year state budget counts on unspecified savings from lifting union protections to fill an $8 billion hole. The first-term governor and his GOP colleagues argue the bill would help city officials and superintendents better control their costs at a time when they too are feeling budget woes.

State Rep. Robert Hagan, a Democrat from Youngstown, took issue with the notion that the bill was aimed at saving money.

“Don’t ever lie to us and don’t be hypocritical and don’t dance around it as if it’s finances, because you know what it is: It’s to bust the union,” Hagan told his fellow lawmakers.

Contentious debates over restricting collective bargaining have popped up in statehouses across the country, most notably in Wisconsin, where the governor signed into law this month a bill eliminating most of state workers’ collective bargaining rights.

The Ohio bill has drawn thousands of demonstrators, prompted a visit from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and packed hearing rooms in the weeks before the Senate passed the earlier version of the measure. Its reception in the House had been quieter, even with the several hundred protesters on Wednesday.

The vote in the House came after the chamber’s labor committee added GOP-backed revisions Tuesday that would make it more difficult for unions to collect certain fees.

The committee changed the bill to ban automatic deductions from employee paychecks that would go the unions’ political arm. It also altered the measure to prevent nonunion employees affected by contracts from paying so-called “fair share” fees to union organizations.

Unions argue that their contracts cover those nonunion workers and that letting them not pay unfairly spreads the costs to dues-paying members.

The roughly four-hour House debate on the bill began with boos, shouts and laughter from protesters in the House chamber who oppose the legislation, prompting the House speaker to slam his gavel to bring order.

Onlookers in the gallery balked as state Rep. Joseph Uecker said the bill would help city officials save taxpayers money and help the middle class.

“You gotta be kidding!” one man shouted.

“We’re going to clear the balcony if it’s necessary,” responded House Speaker William Batchelder, a Medina Republican.

GOP members were coming to the defense of the measure even before floor debate started.

“This state cannot pay what we’ve been paying in the past,” Batchelder said. “Local governments and taxpayers need control over their budgets. This bill, as amended and changed, is a bill that will give control back to the people who pay the bills.”

He said House Republicans were launching a website, sb5truth.com, to correct what they see as falsehoods about the measure.

Democrats oppose the measure but have offered no amendments to it. Instead, they delivered boxes containing more than 65,000 opponent signatures to the House labor committee’s chairman.

Kasich supports the proposal.

“We think we have a program here that’s going to allow local governments to deal with fewer dollars, it still protects the right of collective bargaining on things that we think are legitimate and will help people be able to cope in a period of time when we do have fewer resources,” Kasich told reporters Wednesday at a separate bill signing.

Opponents have vowed to lead a ballot repeal effort if the Ohio measure passes.

“This isn’t over,” said Rep. Armond Budish, the Democratic House leader. “We’ve just begun to fight, and we’re going to fight like heck.”

Mark Sanders, president of the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters, said he hoped voters would give the bill more careful consideration than lawmakers.

“Firefighters risk their lives and personal safety nearly every day,” Sanders said. “Today, the people these protectors look to for legal protection have let them down.”

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