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Ohio has followed Wisconsin’s lead, passing a law on Wednesday even tougher on union and collective bargaining than the controversial bill Wisconsin passed earlier this month. The Ohio state House passed the draconian measure by a vote of 53-44. The legislation already passed in the Senate with a 17-16 vote at the beginning of the month. Republican Governor John Kasich signed the bill the next day.
Senate President Tom Niehaus threatened to clear the chamber ahead of final legislative action on the bill as pro-labor protesters shouted insults at senators and threatened to unseat them in the next election. Chants of “Shame on you!” filled chambers as they voted against the public workers.
Ohio Senate Bill 5 would affect 350,000 public workers. The legislation would prohibit government workers from striking and would face imprisonment and fines if they did. The legislation would eliminate contractual patterns for wage increase, putting total authority for hiring, firing, and outsourcing in the hands of public sector managers. It would cut government workers pay by 20 percent by forcing them to pay that much for their health care premiums. The bill would deny collective bargaining rights to teachers, professors, and workers hired through private contractors. Whereas in Wisconsin, police and fire personnel were not affected by the limits in collective bargaining, in Ohio they will also be denied the rights to bargain over salary and benefits. It would broaden the factors that can determine layoffs or dismals to public employees and limit vacation days and paid holidays for long-term workers. The bill would privatize some prisons.
Even though the Ohio measure was even worse than Wisconsin’s measure by pro-labor standards, Ohio unions were never able to garner the support that Wisconsin had. The largest protests in Ohio’s state capital were 8,500, a number that pales in comparison to the 75,000-100,000 that demonstrated in Madison nearly every day. Many believe the proximity of the University of Wisconsin to the capital helped in those protests.
Like Governor Walker in Wisconsin, Kasich and other Republicans have defended the bill by saying it is necessary to cut the deficit. “This state cannot pay what we’ve been paying in the past,” said House Speaker Bill Batchelder. “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.”
Opponents of the bill, like State Rep. Robert Hagan, a Democrat from Youngstown, do not believe the bill was about austerity measures. “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.
Democrats, including former Gov. Ted Strickland, and unions have vowed to mount a campaign to overturn the measure through a referendum in November.