Vice President Joe Biden speaks at an AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic, Monday, Sept. 5, 2011, at Coney Island in Cincinnati.
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CINCINNATI — Labor is locked in the fight of its life with states like Ohio and Wisconsin on the front lines, Vice President Joe Biden told an annual Labor Day gathering of the AFL-CIO Monday.
“We’ve been through a lot of fights, but this is a different kind of fight ...,” he said. “This is a fight for the heart and soul of the labor movement. This is a fight literally for our right to exist. Don’t misunderstand what this is ... You are the only folks keeping the barbarians from the gates.”
Using words like “assault’’ and “onslaught,’’ the Democratic vice president said labor has to push back the threat or face the beginning of a rollback in gains made by organized labor over the years.
“The middle class is under attack, but labor is under the most direct assault in a generation ... ,” Mr. Biden told union members who attended the AFL-CIO conference in Cincinnati. “The other side has declared war on labor’s house and it’s about time we stand up. Understand it for what it is ... They’re reopening fights we thought we settled 50 years ago.”
On Nov. 8, Ohio voters will give the thumbs up or down to Senate Bill 5, a law passed solely with Republican votes that would make the most dramatic changes to public employee labor law since 1983. The law will appear on the ballot as Issue 2.
Among its numerous provisions, the bill outlaws strikes by public employees, limits what they can negotiate in contracts, requires workers to pay at least 15 percent of their health care premiums, and prohibits government employers from picking up any portion of an employee’s share of his pension contributions.
If upheld by voters, the law would also scrap binding arbitration as the means to bring finality to contract disputes with police, firefighters, and other public safety employees, currently the only public workers barred from striking.
Instead, the law would substitute a new system for all public workers involving mediation, fact-finding, a public hearing, and then a vote of the legislative body of the local government in question, essentially management, to choose between the last best offers submitted by both sides. In some cases, that public vote could be subject to a public referendum.
Mr. Biden directly connected the nation’s current economic problems with the effort by Republican governors and legislatures to limit the bargaining power of government workers.
“By the time they left office (in Washington), 8 million people had lost their jobs,” he said. “We went from a budget surplus to a hemorrhaging debt. And now ..., in an exercise of chutzpah that exceeds all, the ironies of all ironies, they literally are using their failed economic policies and excesses to justify taking away your right to bargain for safe working conditions and a little decent health-care because they say we can’t afford it after they wrecked the economy.”
Jason Mauk, spokesman for the pro-Senate Bill 5 Building a Better Ohio, accused the Obama administration of voicing support for public employee collective bargaining while acting at the federal level to unilaterally impose wage freezes because of the nation’s budgetary problems.
“It seems like Vice President Biden should be a strong advocate for the reasonable reforms of Issue 2, which actually provides far greater protections for government employees than current federal labor policies,” Mr. Mauk said.
“You’d think government union leaders would be accusing the Obama administration of attacking the middle class, but they’re actually welcoming the Vice President with open arms. How ironic,” he said.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.