COLUMBUS, Ohio — The bargaining rights of public workers in Ohio would be dramatically reduced and strikes would be banned under a bill narrowly passed by the state Senate on Wednesday.
The GOP-backed measure that would restrict the collective bargaining rights of roughly 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees squeaked through the state Senate on a 17-16 vote. Six Republicans sided with Democrats against the measure.
Firefighters and teachers shouted "Shame!" in the chamber as the legislation was approved and moved on to the GOP-controlled House, where it is likely to receive strong support.
The bill is similar to the Republican-supported collective bargaining bill in the Wisconsin legislature that has sparked national debate in its weakening of public employees' ability to negotiate contracts – although there are differences between the two. Wisconsin's bill exempts police and firefighters from the collective bargaining restrictions, while Ohio's does not. And the bill there would affect 175,000 unionized public workers.
The Ohio bill would ban strikes by public workers and establish penalties for those who do participate in walkouts. Unionized workers could negotiate wages, hours and certain work conditions but not health care, sick time or pension benefits. The measure would do away with automatic pay raises and base future wage increases on merit.
The legislation would also set up a new process to settle worker disputes, giving elected officials the final say in contract disagreements. Binding arbitration, which police officers and firefighters use to resolve contract disputes as an alternative to strikes, would be eliminated.
"It's a fair bill," said state Senate President Tom Niehaus, a southwest Ohio Republican. "It's more balanced and fair for the taxpayer whose money these elected officials will ultimately spend."
But Sen. Edna Brown, a Toledo Democrat, said the bill muzzles public employees.
"This bill tilts the balance of power toward management and does not give one new right to employees," she said.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican like his counterpart, Scott Walker, in Wisconsin, praised the development. Both have pushed the collective bargaining bills as part of budget-balancing measures.
"This is a major step forward in correcting the imbalance between taxpayers and the government unions that work for them," Kasich said.
Republican Sens. Tim Grendell, of Chesterland, and Bill Seitz, of Cincinnati, spoke out against the new provision to resolve disputes. Grendell said the process would turn workers into beggars before city councils and other officials who oversee them.
"No one can be a judge and advocate in their own cause," Seitz said. "That's called heads I win, tails you lose."
The bill had passed a Senate committee after leadership replaced Seitz on the panel after he expressed disappointment in the bill, a move that secured the votes needed to get the legislation before the full Senate.
Extra chairs had to be brought in to accommodate the public attending the debate in the Senate chamber. Prohibited from clapping, many wagged or waved their hands in response to pro-labor comments.
The bill now goes to the state House, where the GOP holds a 59-40 majority. If passed there, it would go to Kasich, a strong supporter.
Anthony Caldwell, spokesman for the Service Employees International Union, District 1199, said the union's focus will now turn to the House. Members there serve shorter terms and may be more vulnerable to repercussions at the ballot box than senators, he said.
"We hope that the members of the House will understand the valuable role working families play in their districts," he said. "The House is a two-year body. Whatever happens, people are going to remember that. This isn't just about union issues, this is about working people."
During the debate in the chamber, Republicans defeated Democrats' request to have the entire bill read aloud. GOP Sen. Scott Oelslager, of North Canton, sided with Democrats on that issue, as he did on the bill.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Shannon Jones, said the bill, which would change a 27-year-old Ohio law, is long overdue and would help state and local governments control costs.
"The time has come to make some very tough decisions," she told her Senate colleagues.
Jones said the bill is not an attack on the middle class, prompting snickering and coughs from members of the public in the crowded chamber. Democratic lawmakers pointed out teachers, pipefitters and public safety workers from their districts at the start of the hearing.
Standing in the Statehouse Rotunda after the vote, Columbus firefighter Terry Marsh said he understood Legislature's need to look for ways to save on costs and examine collective bargaining.
"But to ram something through within a few weeks is irresponsible, and to blame the budget woes of the state on the workers is a downright travesty," he said.
Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins and Julie Carr Smyth contributed to this report.
03/07/2011 5:01 PM EST
The Atlantic reports that at one town hall meeting in Wisconsin, one GOP state senator faced "loud opposition" to a proposed compromise.
03/04/2011 1:04 AM EST
Judge Orders Protesters Out Of Capitol
About 50 pro-union protesters peacefully left the state Capitol late Thursday after a judge ruled they could no longer spend the night to show their opposition to Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to eliminate nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers.
The judge also ruled the state had violated the public's free speech and assembly rights by restricting access to the building.
03/03/2011 5:00 PM EST
Layoff Notices To Come Friday
AP reports that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he will issue layoff notices to 1,500 state employees Friday if his union bill doesn't pass by then:
Walker also said in an interview with The Associated Press that he is negotiating with Democrats who stymied passage of the bill by leaving the state for changes to the proposal that would get them to return. Walker said he won't compromise on the collective bargaining issue or anything that saves the state money.
"I can't take any of that off the table," he said.
03/03/2011 11:16 AM EST
New Research Numbers
HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal writes:
A new survey released this morning by the Pew Research Center is the first to provide a clear before-and-after snapshot of national attitudes toward labor unions in the wake of the ongoing protests and budget conflict in Wisconsin:
The public’s overall views of labor unions have changed little through the lengthy stalemate between Wisconsin’s governor and the state’s public employee unions over collective bargaining rights. About half (47%) say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions compared with 39% who have an unfavorable opinion. In early February, 45% expressed a favorable opinion of unions and 41% said they had an unfavorable view. However, liberal Democrats and people in union households are more likely to say they have a very favorable opinion of labor unions than they were just weeks ago.
See the Pew Research report for their complete analysis and full results by party, ideology and union membership subgroups. The Pew Center had also conducted an in-depth survey on unions in early February, just before Walker released the budget bill that sparked the protests.
03/02/2011 6:42 PM EST
Man Cited For Unplugging Fox Equipment
The City of Madison has filed a police report charging a 23-year-old man for "disorderly conduct" after he unplugged extension cords from a Fox News vehicle. Read the full report here.
03/02/2011 6:00 PM EST
West Virginia Approves Pay Hikes For Public Workers
Adding another state into the debate on public workers, West Virginia's Herald-Dispatch reports:
West Virginia's public employees would reap pay raises averaging 2 percent this year, with a second year of increases promised to teachers and school workers, under a proposal advanced Wednesday to the state Senate by the House.
But the 78-22 vote reflected GOP-led concerns that increasing state spending threatens a stable budgetary picture that has so far allowed West Virginia to avoid deficits and the painful choices they can force. Foes also contrasted the pay hikes with the state's continuing unemployment woes.
Full story here.
03/02/2011 5:44 PM EST
Update: Ohio Bill Would Jail Striking Librarians
More details have surfaced on Ohio's controversial SB 5, which just passed the state senate.
Senate Bill 5 would prohibit public-employee unions representing teachers, librarians, toll collectors and others from bargaining over health benefits, pensions and working conditions. Under the bill, unions could still negotiate wages, but striking would be prohibited for all public workers, taking away a major bargaining chip. Workers could face a fine of up to $1,000, or 30 days in jail, if they go on strike.
A Twitter campaign, #standupOH, has already mounted. As user @escapetochengdu tweeted, "The bill that just passed Ohio Senate allows the government to jail striking librarians for 30 days. Despicable."
Read the whole Wall Street Journal story here.
03/02/2011 5:25 PM EST
Ohio Senate Passes Controversial Anti-Union Bill
The bill put forth by an Ohio panel earlier today has passed the state senate, TPM reports:
The Ohio State Senate just passed the controversial SB 5, aimed a limiting unionized state employees' ability to collectively bargain or go on strike.
In an indication of how divisive the legislation is in the Buckeye State, the final vote in the Senate was 17-16.
Gov. John Kasich (R) has endorsed the measure and is expected to sign it when it reaches his desk.
Full story here.
03/02/2011 5:18 PM EST
'Runaway Senator' Tourism Campaign Goes Viral
A tourism campaign leveraging the Wisconsin senators who fled to Rockford, Illinois has gone viral. The push, "Hide Away In Rockford," hawks "collectively bargained" rates to some of the town's best tourist attractions.
“Unlike Wisconsin’s state senators, this video isn’t low key; it’s been a real runaway hit," said Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (RACVB) President/CEO John Groh of the campaign's success.
Watch the promotional video here.
03/02/2011 4:48 PM EST
Polls: Polarized Wisconsin Leans Toward Unions
HuffPost's resident pollster Mark Blumenthal reports:
WASHINGTON -- A automated telephone poll conducted this week in Wisconsin by the Democratic-affiliated firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) largely confirms other recent polls showing public support for collective bargaining rights for unions and, by a narrow margin, more opposition than support for the agenda of Gov. Scott Walker (R). Some caution is in order, however, about several vote preference questions included in the same survey.
Despite the ongoing coverage and national interest in the controversy, all of the opinion surveys taken within Wisconsin so far have had sponsors with partisan ties, and each has taken a different approach to the questions asked. Where their questions have been similar, however, we can begin to compare the results.
Read more here.