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Published: Friday, 4/1/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Kasich signs measure restricting labor rights

Opposition plans repeal drive

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

Gov. John Kasich inks Senate Bill 5 after the Statehouse had been locked for the night. Mr. Kasich said the bill restores the balance between the public and private sector. Gov. John Kasich inks Senate Bill 5 after the Statehouse had been locked for the night. Mr. Kasich said the bill restores the balance between the public and private sector.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH/BROOKE LAVALLEY Enlarge
COLUMBUS -- Republican Gov. John Kasich Thursday night followed through with his pledge to sign into law a bill severely restricting the collective bargaining power of most of Ohio's 350,000 public employees.

Senate Bill 5, however, is unlikely to go into effect for at least another seven months if a threatened petition drive by Democrats and organized labor is successful in placing the legislation before Ohio voters by way of a referendum on Nov. 8, a move that would place the law on hold.

"This bill, Senate Bill 5, does not cut anybody's salary," Mr. Kasich said. "This bill, Senate Bill 5, does not take away anybody's pension. This bill, Senate Bill 5, does not destroy anybody's health care, and anybody's who's been out there saying that is just factually wrong. This is an effort to provide balance.

"When your average private sector worker in the state of Ohio pays 23 percent of their own health-care costs and when the average city worker in Ohio pays 9 percent, this is frankly an effort to try to restore the balance," Mr. Kasich said.

The Statehouse was silent Thursday night compared to recent days when hundreds of protesters cheered and jeered as lawmakers considered the bill.

The signing ceremony with key lawmakers took place after the Statehouse had been locked for the night.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE BILL

  • Prohibits strikes by all public employees
  • Prohibits local governments from picking up any portion of an employee's share of his pension contributions
  • Requires public employees to pay at least 15 percent of health-insurance premiums
  • Limits negotiations to wages, hours, terms and conditions of employment, and, in some cases, safety equipment
  • Eliminates final binding arbitration as the means to end contract disputes involving public safety employees
  • Eliminates automatic longevity or step pay increases for teachers in favor of a yet-to-be-devised merit pay system

NOW WHAT

  • The law takes effect 90 days after it is filed with the secretary of state's office, unless opponents succeed in getting a referendum placed on the Nov. 8 ballot. If the referendum is on the ballot, the law would be placed on hold.
  • To get the referendum on the ballot, organizers would need at least 231,147 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters.

 

Opponents of Senate Bill 5 have joined forces to form "We Are Ohio," which is a nonprofit corporation, to mount the referendum drive.

"We Are Ohio" spokesman Dennis Willard said the coalition will include some Republicans who voted for Mr. Kasich last November.

"We have a tremendous amount of energy now in this state, which works in our favor," Mr. Willard said. "The polling shows it. The number of folks who have turned out not only at the Statehouse but all around the state … shows that people sense this is inherently unfair.

"They also sense that this is an attack on workers' rights, and because of that we have not had a problem generating large numbers of people coming out to help us."

Repeal referenda have appeared on Ohio's ballot just twice in the last 14 years.

In 1999, opponents of a law overhauling Ohio's workers' compensation system successfully overturned that law.

But in 2008, voters balked when payday lenders made the attempt to repeal a state law cracking down on their business practices.

There have been several cases when those seeking repeals could not get over the hurdles just to reach the ballot.

Presumably, if there's any group that would have the financial and manpower wherewithal to mount such an extensive, labor-intensive effort, it would be the labor unions.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said the nation is watching.

"I guarantee you it is," Mr. Sabato said. "It's an off-year election with hardly anything on the ballot. Inevitably, this is going to attract a lot of money, attention, and organization. It relates to what we've seen in a half dozen states, particularly Wisconsin.

"It will become a test of wills between business and labor and Democrats and Republicans," Mr. Sabato said.

"Money will pour in. It's a year ahead of the presidential election, so it will be a test of the organizations for the big presidential race in the critical state of Ohio," Mr. Sabato added.

The House passed the bill 53-44 on Thursday with five Republicans defecting to join all Democrats in voting "no."

The bill passed the Senate twice by 17-16 votes with six GOP members opposing the bill.

Both sides claim they've got the backs of the middle class on this one.

Among its numerous provisions, Ohio Senate Bill 5 prohibits public employees from striking, limits the subjects to be negotiated, mandates that workers pay at least 15 percent of health-care premiums, and prohibits governments from picking up any portion of an employee's share of pension contributions.

Contracts would be prohibited from containing language that allows unions to automatically deduct "fair- share" fees from the paychecks of nonmembers in the workplace and would make it easier for members to petition for the decertification of a union.

"I don't think public employees really ought to strike," Mr. Kasich said Thursday night.

"The provisions in this bill are pretty clear. If you decide to strike, somebody could let you go, or they can say to you, 'We're going to dock your pay.' "

To make his point, Mr. Kasich recalled the 1981 decision of President Ronald Reagan to fire air traffic controllers when they went on strike.

"You know, I think the public was probably with him," he said.

Upon the measure's filing with Secretary of State Jon Husted's office, the 90-day clock for it to take effect will be set in motion.

If the petition effort succeeds in putting a repeal question on the Nov. 8 ballot, the law would be placed on hold at least through the election.

A recent Quinnipiac Poll of 1,384 registered voters released week found that 48 percent don't approve of the bill while 41 percent do.

When the question was rephrased to use the term collective bargaining "rights," disapproval climbed to 54 percent.

"It means the measure probably starts off with a lead," Mr. Sabato said.

"As for whether it maintains that lead, look at California. Those measures start out ahead and then lose. That's the normal process there. But if Kasich remains at [a Quinnipiac-measured approval rating of] 30 percent or close to it, he would be a kiss of death for his side," Mr. Sabato said.

Both Mr. Kasich and the Ohio Democratic Party cited Senate Bill 5 in fund-raising e-mails issued Thursday.

"John Kasich campaigned on one central promise: that he was going to create jobs,'' Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern wrote.

"After an election in which more people voted against him than for him, Mr. Kasich thought he could defy the will of the people by pushing an extreme, anti-middle class agenda," Mr. Redfern wrote.

"[H]e's about to learn a painful lesson about the will of the people," Mr. Redfern wrote. "He's about to learn a thing or two about checks and balances."

Once the language is approved, opponents would need at least 231,147 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters, the equivalent of 6 percent of those who voted in last year's low-turnout gubernatorial election.

The general rule of thumb has been that petitioners strive to file twice as many signatures as the law requires to compensate for a potentially high-disqualification rate by county boards of election.

Any referendum would be phrased as a thumbs up or down on the law itself, so the backers of the petition effort would be advocating for a "no" vote.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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