WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. labor unions are celebrating one of their biggest victories in decades after turning back a law in Ohio that curbed collective bargaining rights for the Midwestern state's public workers.
Union leaders say they hope the Tuesday vote brings about a resurgence for a labor movement long in decline and sends a strong message to other states where lawmakers are thinking about restricting union rights.
But they also want to use the outcome as a spark to help re-elect President Barack Obama and put more Democrats in office next year.
"I think the outcome is an absolute momentum-shifting victory for the labor movement," said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Firefighters.
Unions also want to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a top target after he pushed through similar legislation limiting union rights in his state. Schaitberger predicted "tremendous impact across the country" if they are successful.
By a nearly 2-1 margin, Ohio voters repealed a new law that would have severely limited the bargaining rights of more than 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other state employees.
The law signed in late March by Republican Gov. John Kasich would have banned public employee strikes, scrapped binding arbitration, and denied public workers the ability to negotiate pensions and health care benefits.
Kasich had said the law would help hold down taxes and make the state more appealing to business. We Are Ohio, the largely union-funded opponent coalition, painted the issue as a threat to public safety and middle-class workers, spending millions of dollars on TV ads filled with images of firefighters, police officers, teachers and nurses.
"It's a huge victory. It can't be underestimated," said Doug Schoen, a Democratic strategist who worked for President Bill Clinton. "But unions will try to read it broadly, and I don't think it is."
Schoen said unions would characterize the win as "a resurgence of the union movement, the resurgence of the left and the revitalization of the Democratic Party. I think it's a repudiation of efforts to get rid of collective bargaining — no more, no less."
Obama faces the challenge of appeasing his party's traditional base, which includes unions, while at the same time pulling in moderates and independents to win re-election.
White House spokesman Jay Carney issued a statement saying Obama "congratulates the people of Ohio for standing up for workers" to defeat the measure.
Kasich, meanwhile, said Tuesday that he respected the voters' decision and would spend time reflecting on the result.
The vote certainly is a boost to beleaguered unions, which have been on the defensive all year as Republican lawmakers around the country sought to rein in budget deficits by targeting generous union pensions and benefits. Even Democratic governors in New York and Connecticut faced down their public employee unions to hold down costs, but did so without trying to limit collective bargaining rights.
Unions fell short earlier this year in their recall campaign to wrest control of the Wisconsin Senate from Republicans. A similar defeat in Ohio "would have been a calamity to them," said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
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