Fight Over Collective Bargaining Moves To Ohio

Protesters are converging on the Ohio Statehouse to protest as state senators hold a hearing on a bill to weaken the collective bargaining rights of state workers' unions — including firefighters, police and teachers. Republican leaders in the state Senate say the move is needed to curtail the state's projected $8 billion, two-year budget deficit.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The fight over state workers and their collective bargaining rights is on the move. In a moment, we'll hear about the ongoing union protest in Wisconsin, but first, to Ohio, where legislators are considering their own bill to weaken collective bargaining rights for unionized state workers.

From the statehouse in Columbus, NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON: The union rally began today with a firefighter bagpipe band marching in front of the capitol.

(Soundbite of music)

GLINTON: The differences between Ohio and Wisconsin run deeper than Buckeyes and Badgers. The bill Ohio legislators are considering would restrict collective bargaining for government employees, including firefighters and police - two groups excluded from Wisconsin's plan.

Mr. KEVIN McCAFFERTY (Firefighter): This is about union rights across the board. This bill contains things that are just designed to weaken those rights.

GLINTON: Kevin McCafferty is a Cleveland firefighter. He came to Columbus to protest Ohio's Senate bill number five. He says if passed, it could directly affect police and firefighters' personal safety.

Mr. McCAFFERTY: In the future, we will have no say on how many men go out the door to a fire. We'll have no say on protective clothing as it improves.

GLINTON: Ohio has a projected $8 billion budget deficit over the next two years.

Republican State Senator Kevin Bacon says to attack that budget hole, Ohio local leaders need to have flexibility when dealing with government employees.

State Senator KEVIN BACON (Republican, Ohio): So that they can make adjustments in the time of down economy they can't currently do, because so much of this is ingrained in statute and prevents the employers from having the ability to make these adjustments.

GLINTON: Bacon says to get that flexibility legislators need to go after state workers' unions.

State Sen. BACON: Well, it's an attack, all right. It's an attack on spending. You know, many of the tactics that are being used to oppose this bill are just false.

GLINTON: That's a point Republican Governor John Kasich has been stressing as well. Earlier today, he tweeted: We aren't backing down in Ohio.

Opponents of the effort say if the bill passes, they'll fight to put collective bargaining on the ballot as a referendum.

While general assembly Democrats strongly oppose this legislation, Republicans now hold comfortable majorities in both houses here. So a vote could be held even if Ohio Democrats follow the lead of their Wisconsin and Indiana peers and flee the state.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Columbus.

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