COLUMBUS, Ohio — Another showdown on an Ohio bill to restrict the bargaining rights of public workers could come as early as Wednesday with a vote by a Republican-majority legislative committee whose chairman says he has the support to send the measure to the Senate.
Worker rights and collective bargaining have sparked debate in statehouses across the country, most notably in Wisconsin, where a scheduled vote on a similar bill prompted Democratic lawmakers to flee the state.
As GOP Sen. Shannon Jones unveiled her changes to the Ohio bill Tuesday, a daylong rally drew 8,500 protesters who chanted, brandished signs, and listened to musical acts and speakers.
Labor sympathizers also planned to gather Wednesday afternoon for a vigil, anticipating the Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee will approve the bill and send it to the full chamber. Republicans hold the majority in the 33-member Senate.
Republican Gov. John Kasich supports the effort. He said in a Fox television interview Tuesday that restricting collective bargaining would be part of a package he plans to present March 15 to address the state's $8 billion deficit, joblessness and poverty.
Democrats have opposed the measure. Senate Democratic Leader Capri Cafaro said the bill "turns collective bargaining into a one-sided conversation where management always gets the last word."
Some 350,000 teachers, university professors, firefighters, police officers and other public workers would be affected by the legislation if it becomes law. Some predicted the Republican-led campaign would backfire.
"I think Gov. Kasich is going to do more for union membership than he even imagines," said Robin Clark, a 59-year-old science teacher in Akron. "When people see everyday people's livelihoods under attack, they have to protect themselves somehow, and that's a primary way to do that."
The initial bill would strip collective bargaining rights for state workers, but allow strikes. The revised measure would ban public worker strikes, and establish fines and jail time for those who participate in walkouts. It would allow unionized workers to negotiate wages, hours, and safety conditions but not health care, sick time or pension benefits.
In addition, the revised measure would set up a new process to settle worker disputes. Either party could request a mediator, but local or state elected officials would have the final say in unresolved contract disputes. Binding arbitration, which police officers and firefighters use to resolve contract disputes as an alternative to strikes, would be eliminated under the revised bill.
Committee Chairman Kevin Bacon, R-Columbus, said Tuesday that while he has the votes to send the bill to the Senate, he wanted lawmakers to get a chance to review the proposed changes. Jones said her revised bill "gives power back to the taxpayer and restores flexibility to the management of their hard-earned dollars."
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