Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ohio lawmakers sent a bill limiting collective bargaining by state and city workers to Governor John Kasich for his signature, passing a measure similar to the Wisconsin bill that spurred protests from coast to coast.

The Senate voted 17-16 for the measure yesterday after the House of Representatives passed it earlier in the day. Kasich has backed the bill, which also would require government workers to make minimum payments for health-care coverage and pensions.

Ohio Democrats have pledged to ask voters to repeal the measure. That would require more than 231,000 voters to sign petitions within 90 days of passage to prevent it from taking effect until the public vote, according to the secretary of state. The measure and a similar bill sought by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker have spurred nationwide labor protests.

“These folks are not numbers on a page or lines on a graph,” said Representative Matt Szollosi, a Democrat from Oregon, near Toledo. “They do not deserve to be slapped in the face and put further into harm’s way, because the liberty groups or Tea Party groups or whoever is pulling the Republican strings right now have demonized public workers.”

Ohio’s Republican-led House voted 53-44 yesterday to accept changes made by a committee March 29, sending the measure to the Senate, which concurred and moved it to Republican Kasich.
Needed Measure

“Helping local governments reduce their costs so they can begin lightening Ohio’s tax burden helps us compete better against states that are far friendlier to job creators,” Kasich said in a statement released after the Senate vote.

Similar legislation passed in Wisconsin and championed by Republican Walker has been challenged in court by Democrats. Opponents are seeking recall elections of eight Republican senators who supported the measure in Madison.

With states facing combined shortfalls that may reach $112 billion during the next fiscal year, Kasich and Walker say the bills will help balance budgets without raising taxes and give state and local governments tools to control costs.

Democrats and labor leaders say the two governors, both elected in November, are trying to break unions and cripple their support of Democratic candidates. The bill in Wisconsin prompted Senate Democrats to flee the state to block passage for weeks and drew tens of thousands of protesters to the Capitol. Similar protests occurred in Columbus, Ohio’s capital, and in states from California to Massachusetts last month.
‘Workplace Democracy’

“Collective bargaining, in my view, is democracy in the workplace,” said Senator Tom Sawyer, an Akron Democrat, ahead of yesterday’s vote in Columbus.

Members of government unions at all levels “are people with families, often times living paycheck to paycheck,” Representative Szollosi said.

One such worker, Tim Alger, 38, a firefighter from Portsmouth, across the Ohio River from Kentucky, said the bill will cut his family’s income by 10 percent. He came to the Statehouse to protest outside the House chamber.

“All the fat’s been cut and now they’re going to cut into what we need,” said Alger. He said he has stopped contributing to his son’s college savings to pay his monthly bills.

Ohio House Republicans changed the bill, prohibiting contracts that require employees who aren’t union members to pay “fair share” fees and banning deductions for contributions to a political action committee, according to an analysis by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission.
Bargaining Restrictions

The measure limits collective bargaining to wages, hours and working conditions. The House added a provision saying that public-safety unions may still bargain over equipment issues, the commission said. Police and fire labor leaders had said that provision was vital to keep their members from being endangered.

The bill would eliminate binding arbitration to resolve impasses in contract talks with public-safety unions, and outlaw strikes by government workers. Provisions to impose fines and jail time for violations of the no-strike rule were removed, the commission said.

Government workers would be required to pay at least 15 percent of the costs for their health insurance, while their employers would be barred from covering workers’ pension contributions. It replaces automatic pay increases with merit- based adjustments.

About half of Ohio voters surveyed disagreed with limiting bargaining by government unions, a Quinnipiac University poll said this month. By a margin of 55 percent to 37 percent, registered voters said limiting union bargaining wasn’t “necessary to help balance” state budgets, the poll showed.


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