Ohio House OKs collective bargaining limits

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A bill that would limit collective bargaining rights for 350,000 Ohio public workers cleared the Republican-controlled House on Wednesday, one of its final hurdles before it goes to the governor of the labor-stronghold state.

Chants of “Shame on you!” from onlookers broke out immediately after the full House approved the measure on a 53-44 vote. It was possible a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate, which narrowly approved an earlier version of the legislation, would soon follow.

About 150 protesters started to gather in the Senate chamber, singing “We shall not moved” and chanting “Power to the people!”

Standing in the Statehouse Rotunda after the vote, 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.

The legislation is in some ways tougher than Wisconsin’s, as it would extend union restrictions to police officers and firefighters. But its reception in Ohio has paled in intensity with the raucous fight in Wisconsin, where tens of thousands of people demonstrated against a similar bill.

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. That measure exempts police officers and firefighters; Ohio’s does not.

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 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 government 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.”

——

Associated Press writer Julie Carr Smyth contributed to this report.

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