COLUMBUS - Gov. Ted Strickland said yesterday he will oppose his own party and political base to fight a ballot issue to make Ohio the first state in the nation to mandate paid sick leave for most workers.
The move places the governor at odds with a coalition that includes the Ohio Democratic Party and powerful unions like the Service Employees International Union that is on course to put the question before voters on the Nov. 14 ballot. It also allies him with the business community and the Republican-controlled General Assembly, which have characterized the proposal as a job-killer.
The governor and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher took their stance after months of straddling the fence, trying to fashion a compromise between the coalition and the business community that could have made the ballot issue unnecessary.
"While we would hope that all Ohio businesses would make paid sick days available to their employees whenever possible, we believe that this initiative is unworkable, unwieldy, and would be detrimental to Ohio's economy, and we will be opposing it and asking Ohioans to oppose it as a result," the two said in a written statement.
It remains to be seen how active Mr. Strickland and Mr. Fisher will be in their opposition, including whether they would appear in ads for opponents of what would be Issue 4.
"Those are decisions that will have to be made in the future," said Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey. "The governor very clearly stated his opposition and his plan to ask Ohioans to oppose it. That's a clear position of opposition that will hopefully reverberate over the course of the campaign."
The Ohioans for Healthy Families coalition is awaiting word from the Secretary of State's office whether its petitions have qualified the question for the ballot.
The proposed law would require employers with 25 or more employees to allow workers to earn up to seven paid days of sick leave each year to care for themselves, their children, their spouses, their parents, or in-laws. Part-time workers putting in fewer than 30 hours a week would receive a pro-rated share of paid leave.
"We like the governor and respect him immensely, but on this one, we think he's wrong," said Dale Butland, spokesman for Ohioans for Healthy Families, which backs the proposal.
"In our view, the Healthy Families Act is not only workable, but absolutely necessary for the 2.2 million Ohioans without paid sick days who work hard, play by the rules, and don't want to lose a job or a paycheck simply because they or their family members occasionally get sick," he said.
Mr. Strickland's announcement was made the same day that the governor and lieutenant governor appeared at General Motors' Lordstown plant, where the automaker provided an early glimpse at what it hopes is its future, a fuel-efficient auto to be manufactured at that plant.
It was a chance to highlight good economic news at a time when Ohio is bleeding jobs, unemployment has surpassed 7 percent, and the governor has personally written editorial pieces to national publications defending the state's business climate.
"This reality means that there will be a hard-fought campaign centering on this initiative in the coming months," Mr. Strickland said. "During that campaign, we call upon both sides to avoid portraying Ohio as unfriendly to business and economic development."
The National Federation of Independent Business, whose study claims mandatory paid sick leave could sap the economy of as many as 75,000 jobs, applauded the governor's decision.
"This demonstrates [Mr. Strickland's] commitment to turning around Ohio's economy and creating jobs," said Ty Pine, Ohio director of the 25,000-member National Federation of Independent Business. "As an elected official, we know it's not easy to go against your constituent bases, and we appreciate the governor joining the opposition."
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