COLUMBUS — The message was not subtle: A table with six place cards bearing the names of major public employee unions. The chairs behind them empty.
As expected, no player in the move to have voters decide the fate of Ohio’s new law restricting the collective bargaining of government workers showed up at a Friday meeting called by Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislative leaders to talk compromise.
“Woody Allen said 90 percent of life is showing up, and they’ve obviously flunked that test today,’’ the GOP governor said. “I think frankly they’re pretty divided. I do believe there are people who are a part of that coalition who would like to sit and talk to us.
“If somebody wants to sneak in in the dead of night, or if they want to just give me a phone call, or if they want to start talking, we’re open to it,’’ he said.
We Are Ohio, the coalition consisting largely of organized labor and Democratic groups, made it clear over the last two days that they would not sit down to negotiate what would replace Senate Bill 5 until the law itself is history.
“That’s an ultimatum, not a negotiation,’’ said Senate President Tom Niehaus (R., New Richmond).
The images of three of Ohio’s top leaders—Mr. Kasich, Mr. Niehaus, and House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina) sitting at one table while a table representing organized labor was empty was no accident as the meeting that didn’t happen turned into a news conference.
But Mr. Kasich said the strong rhetoric was not an indication that the fall campaign for the votes of Ohioans is on.
“You never close the door,’’ he said. “You never close the door, but, you know, the train’s left the station. Our campaign is going to be strong. It’s going to involve the grassroots. People are going to understand what’s going on. At the end of the day, if they want to talk, come and talk.’’
Barring a last-minute surprise, voters will be asked on Nov. 8 to give Senate Bill 5 the thumbs up or down. Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office said Aug. 29, the day before final certification of the ballot, is the last day that he can receive a letter from the committee behind We Are Ohio asking that the referendum be cancelled.
We Are Ohio, however, has said that won’t happen until lawmakers return from summer recess to repeal the bill themselves prior to the expiration of the Aug. 29 deadline. Mr. Niehaus said Friday that doing that would remove the leverage Republicans would have in any follow-up negotiations.
Among the numerous provisions of the law, which has been shelved pending the outcome of the vote, prohibits strikes by roughly 350,000 government workers, limits what they can negotiate, 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.