News & Events

Ohio House panel OK’s public worker union bill

Measure would restrict rights on bargaining

Larry Cerne of Cleveland protested against the collective bargaining bill yesterday. (Jay Leprete/Associated Press)

By Ann Sanner
Associated Press / March 30, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A panel of Ohio lawmakers made a bill to limit collective bargaining rights for 350,000 public workers even tougher for unions yesterday, as the state moved closer to Wisconsin-style restrictions.

A Republican-controlled House labor committee voted 9 to 6 along party lines to send the bill to the full House.

Its approval of the legislation was met with chants of “Shame on you!’’ from the several hundred demonstrators gathered outside the hearing room. “I don’t hear your supporters out there!’’ one man inside the room shouted to lawmakers.

A vote on the bill in the GOP-controlled House could come today. The Senate, also led by Republicans, passed the bill earlier this month on a 17-to-16 vote and would have to agree to the changes before Governor John Kasich could sign it into law. The new Republican governor also supports the bill.

Similar limits to collective bargaining have cropped up in State Houses across the country, most notably in Wisconsin, where the governor earlier this month signed into law a measure eliminating most of state workers’ collective bargaining rights. That state’s measure exempts police officers and firefighters; Ohio’s does not.

Meanwhile, a Wisconsin judge yesterday barred state officials from any further implementation of a law that strips most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights.

Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi issued an emergency injunction prohibiting enactment of the law earlier this month. But the Legislative Reference Bureau published the law anyway on Friday.

Publication is typically the last step before a law takes effect, but it’s unclear if the bureau’s action amounted to that; the law’s supporters say it did, but opponents say the secretary of state had to designate a publication date.

Sumi stopped short of issuing a declaration saying the law was not in effect during a hearing yesterday but said her earlier order had either been ignored or misunderstood. She said anyone who violates the new order would face sanctions.

The Ohio bill would apply to public workers across the state, such as police officers, firefighters, teachers, and state employees. They could negotiate wages and certain work conditions but not health care, sick time, or pension benefits. The bill would do away with automatic pay raises and would base future wage increases on merit. Workers would be banned from striking.

The committee made more than a dozen substantive changes to the legislation, though it kept much of the bill intact.

Kasich’s $55.5 billion, two-year spending plan for the state counts on savings from relaxed union rights at the state and local levels. Local governments and school districts face deep cuts due to the state’s $8 billion budget gap.

Those decreases in funding aren’t lost on lawmakers, said state Representative Joseph Uecker, chairman of the House Commerce and Labor Committee.

The revisions make it more difficult for unions to collect certain fees. But the committee also removed jail time as a possible penalty for workers who participate in walkouts and made clear that public workers could negotiate over safety equipment.

Democrats contend illegal strikers could still face imprisonment under laws already on the books, despite changes to the bill.

Despite the adjustments, Ohio Fraternal Order of Police President Jay McDonald said the bill was still “fundamentally flawed.’’

“The minor changes made to Senate Bill 5 are offset by additions that make the bill even more unfair for Ohio law enforcement and firefighters,’’ he said.

The committee also altered the bill to ban automatic deductions from employee paychecks that would go the unions’ political arm. Other changes would prevent nonunion employees affected by contracts from paying 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.

“This is even more radical and unfair than the Senate version of the bill,’’ said Eddie L. Parks, president of the 34,000-member Ohio Civil Service Employees Association. “Not only are they attacking middle-class wages, rights and benefits, but now the bill will punish people for even joining a union. Those who join will be picking up the tab for those who don’t.’’

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

© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.

View Boston Globe article here