The state’s new law goes further than Wisconsin’s to strip bargaining rights from public workers
Last night, Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich stripped collective bargaining rights — and even the right to form a union in many cases — from at least several hundred thousand public employees.
But unions and a wide array of allies are fighting back with a petition for a referendum on the law that will effectively halt its implementation until a vote in November. And they are mobilizing the public for a fight against Republican budget cuts that will deeply hurt local school and city budgets but continue to implement previously approved tax cuts.
Although their demonstrations did not reach the dramatic level of the big protests in Wisconsin, opponents of SB 5 in Ohio — which outdoes even Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on worker rights — did rally nearly 10,000 backers in Columbus on March 1, then roughly the same number in more than a dozen unexpected small towns and cities.
More than 115,000 Ohioans from a wide range of backgrounds — for example, equal numbers of fans of Johnny Cash and Lil Wayne – signed on to the Facebook page of Stand Up for Good Jobs and Strong Communities/Stand Up for Ohio, a new labor-community coalition. Controversy over SB 5 has become part of everyday conversation, says Kris Harsh statewide Stand Up coordinator.
While there was no opportunity for a high-profile escape of Democratic lawmakers from Ohio to stall legislation and open a target for protest, opponents of the legislation did correctly think they had a better chance of peeling away Republican support and engaged in targeted lobbying.
Ultimately the Senate Republican leaders had to replace a member of their own party from two key committees, putting in “yes-man” replacements at the last minute, in order to get SB 5 to the Senate floor. There, despite holding a 22 to 11 majority, Republicans got the law passed with a narrow 17 to 16 vote.
Republicans promoted the legislation as a solution to the state’s budget shortfall. Yet the average budget deficit is greater in the states with no collective bargaining than in the states where some or all workers have collective bargaining rights.
Kasich showed more of his real intentions when he announced his plans to sign the law by means of a fund-raising letter.
The law permits unionized employees to bargain only over wages, not health insurance, pensions, safety, class size, or other critical work issues. And wage increases must be based on “merit,” not time worked, such as annual “step” increases. Workers also can only bargain if the employer initiates negotiations. If the manager and union bargainers reach an impasse, the law prohibits strikes, work-to-rule, sick-ins and other labor tactics or even arbitration. The employer decides which final offer to accept, although even that decision in some cases may go to voters. In case of a fiscal emergency, the public employer can modify or terminate the contract.
“The key thing is it has taken away any meaningful right to collectively bargain,” says Seth Rosen, Communications Workers (CWA) vice-president and Midwest director. “They take away any dispute resolution mechanism with meaning. If management and labor have a dispute, it’s resolved by a higher level of management.”
Public employees who do not want to join the union will no longer have to pay their “fair share” of dues for the union’s representation of them, and no government bodies can collect even voluntary political contributions through the payroll. University professors, some school employees and firefighters, and the tens of thousands of home health or day care workers recently organized will even be allowed to join a union.
The referendum drive will temporarily block the law but further open a debate that has helped to push Kasich disapproval to 58 percent. ‘people will never forget what those legislators have done,” says Rosen, one of the principal organizers of Stand Up for Ohio. “It’s changed the political landscape in Ohio so that it will never be the same. We’re unite as never before, and we’re going to win.”
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David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy.