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Published: Thursday, 8/18/2011

Coalition rejects Kasich’s offer for meeting over SB 5

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — The coalition seeking repeal of Ohio’s new law limiting collective bargaining by public employees Thursday formally rejected Gov. John Kasich’s offer to meet Friday to negotiate a deal that could lead to removal of the issue from the Nov. 8 ballot.

“We are asking you for a fresh start, and that fresh start must begin with a full repeal of Senate Bill 5,’’ reads a letter sent to Mr. Kasich by AJ Stokes, campaign manager for the We Are Ohio coalition consisting largely of organized labor and Democratic groups.

On Wednesday, Mr. Kasich, House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina) and Senate President Tom Niehaus (R., New Richmond) held a press conference and sent a letter to ask union leaders with decision-making authority within We Are Ohio to meet with them Friday at 10 a.m. to discuss a possible compromise.

Before any such meeting could take place, the legislative leaders must call the Republican-controlled General Assembly back into session to repeal the law, Mr. Stokes wrote. Any such vote would have to take place before Aug. 30, the last day that the four-member petition committee behind We Are Ohio could ask Secretary of State Jon Husted to voluntarily pull Issue 2 from the ballot.

“We must recognize the 1.3 million Ohioans who signed the Citizens’ Veto because they believe Senate Bill 5 is a flawed law,’’ Mr. Stokes wrote. “We will not thwart the will of the people.’’

We Are Ohio spokesman Melissa Fazekas said the organization will not send a representative to the meeting with the governor and legislative leaders even if it just to talk about a legislative vote repealing the law in order to begin new talks. The repeal must take place before such a meeting would take place, she said.

Meanwhile, Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga denied reports that the union ever engaged in any back room negotiations over Senate Bill 5. Don’t look for the union to break now with the We Are Ohio coalition, he said.

“Since the bill passed and was signed into law, the Ohio AFL-CIO has been clear that, if SB 5 is repealed in its entirety, we would be willing to address any concerns that the governor and the legislature have with the collective bargaining law,’’ he said. “This is our position and will remain our position throughout this campaign.’’

Money from across the nation is expected to flow into Ohio on both sides in a ballot fight seen to have significance on similar debates occurring in other parts of the nation. The vote is also seen as a potential barometer of where Ohio stands on the policies of its Republican governor a year out from the presidential election.

In their joint letter to We Are Ohio Wednesday, Mr. Kasich, Mr. Batchelder, and Mr. Niehaus wrote that the ballot battle ahead over Senate Bill 5 will be a “costly political battle that will likely result in lasting scars and bitter divisions at one of the most fragile moments in our state’s history.’’

Among its numerous provisions, Senate Bill 5 prohibits strikes by roughly 350,000 government employees, limits what they can negotiate at the table, requires them to pay at least 15 percent of their health care premiums, and prohibits local governments from picking up any portion of an employee’s share of his pension contributions.

It would also eliminate the ability of unions in the workplace to automatically deduct “fair share’’ fees in lieu of dues from workers who refuse to join and creates a new process to end contract disputes that could put the final decision in the hands of management, the government employer.

A fund-raising e-mail sent to supporters by the Ohio Democratic Party showed that the fight over Senate Bill 5 has become about more than just the fate of a law.

“It is obvious that we have Kasich on the run,’’ wrote Liz Brown, the party’s political director. “He knows that the people of Ohio don’t support SB 5. But we can’t stop now—we have to continue to call out John Kasich’s dirty tricks and we have to continue to get the word out about SB 5 until Ohioans have the chance to repeal it in November — which they will.’’


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