|Ohio Lawmakers Pass Anti-Union Bill
2011-04-02 - 07:53:53 - Current News
The two houses of the Ohio Legislature approved a far-reaching bill on Wednesday that would hobble the ability of public-employee unions to bargain collectively and undercut their political clout. Enlarge This Image Jay Laprete/Associated Press A protester made his feelings known during a broadcast of the Ohio House floor debate on the collective-bargaining bill. They sent the bill to Gov. John R. Kasich, a Republican, who lawmakers said would sign it in the next few days. The Republican-dominated Senate voted 17 to 16 in favor of the bill Wednesday evening, hours after the House passed it, 53 to 44, with 5 Republicans joining 39 Democrats in opposition. Republicans applauded the bill, saying Ohio?s deficit-plagued state and local governments could no longer afford the costs that public-sector unions extracted in collective bargaining. But Democrats criticized the legislation, saying it effectively eviscerated public employees? bargaining rights and would make it harder for them to stay in the middle class. The bill would bar public employees from striking and would prohibit binding arbitration for police officers and firefighters. It would allow bargaining over wages, but not health coverage and pensions and would allow public-employee unions to bargain only when the public employer chose to do so. Numerous unions and Democrats were vowing to sponsor a statewide referendum, probably this November, to overturn the legislation. The push by Ohio Republicans is part of an effort by Republicans in Wisconsin, Indiana and nearly a dozen other states to curb the power of public-sector unions by weakening their ability to bargain and engage in electoral politics. Under the Ohio bill, when there is public-sector bargaining and management and union fail to reach a settlement, the legislative body, such as a county or school board, would make the final decision on what offer to accept. But if the legislative body refrains from selecting either side?s last best offer, the public employer?s last offer would become the agreement between the parties. Republicans said the bill would restore fairness for Ohio?s taxpayers and would help prevent large-scale layoffs by allowing local governments to hold down their labor costs. Immediately after the House voted, William G. Batchelder, the House speaker, said: ?Today, this House has taken an unprecedented step toward public policy that respects all Ohioans, especially our taxpayers and our hard-working middle class.? He said the bill ?protects the collective bargaining rights of Ohioans while also giving local governments an additional tool in the toolbox as they balance their budgets.? But James Brudney, a labor law professor at Ohio State University, said the bill effectively crippled collective bargaining. ?There?s a kind of mask or illusion element in this,? he said. ?The essence of collective bargaining is when you can?t agree on terms of a contract, you have a dispute resolution mechanism, by strikes or perhaps binding arbitration. Here, you have none of that. That?s not collective bargaining. I?d call it collective begging. It?s a conversation that ends whenever an employer decides that it ends.? The bill would allow public employees who are covered by union contracts but who choose not to belong to the union to opt out of paying union dues or fees. The bill would also bar any governmental unit in Ohio from deducting any part of a worker?s paycheck and giving it to the union for political activities unless the worker gave express permission. The bill would bar any union contract that limited a public employer?s ability to privatize operations. It eliminates statutory schedules and steps that automatically increase salaries year by year, and it bars seniority, by itself, from determining who is to be laid off. ?This bill is a reprehensible attack on the middle class and the rights of Ohio?s workers,? said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. ?It undermines our basic American values by attacking the right of Ohio workers to have a voice on the job.? Mr. McEntee, whose union represents 114,000 public employees in Ohio, criticized the bill for eliminating the ability of public employees to negotiate on health care, outsourcing and staffing levels for nurses, firefighting crews and police squad cars. Under the bill, if a public employer chose the costlier of two final offers from management and union and that choice forced a community to raise taxes, then voters would be given the opportunity to overturn the contract through a referendum. ?We?re doing everything we can to return the power to the taxpayers,? said Michael Dittoe, a spokesman for House Republicans. Armond Budish, the House Democratic leader, said he was disappointed, but not surprised, by Wednesday?s vote. ?It?s part of the governor?s effort to balance the budget on the backs of working people,? he said.