Ohio Lawmakers Consider Bill To End Union Rights

Across the country, governors are addressing budget shortfalls by trying to curb rights and pay for public employees. In Ohio, GOP introduced legislation would rein in collective bargaining powers of public employee unions.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The protests in Wisconsin have begun playing out in other states where governors are struggling to balance their budgets. This year those budget battles include fights over pay and benefits for public workers. We're going to hear from three states this morning. We begin in Columbus, Ohio, where NPR's Sonari Glinton tells us that lawmakers are considering options that would significantly limit the bargaining powers of public employee unions.

SONARI GLINTON: In the early '80s, the Ohio General Assembly passed a bill that allowed collective bargaining for public employees. That ended a long period of labor tensions in the state. Now, that tension is back.

(Soundbite of screams and yells)

GLINTON: That's because the fight over unions and collective bargaining has returned to the statehouse - with a vengeance.

Mr. TED STRICKLAND (Former Democratic Governor, Ohio): We haven't had labor unrest in our state for a long time, because the collective bargaining law works.

GLINTON: Ted Strickland is Ohio's former democratic governor. He says changing collective bargaining laws could again lead to public worker strikes.

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

Mr. STRICKLAND: These are good folks. They're willing to work with this governor if he was willing to meet them half way. But what they are not willing to do is to allow their fundamental rights to be stripped away from them.

GLINTON: But Strickland lost his job to Republican John Kasich. And Governor Kasich says curbing collective bargaining is one of his top priorities. Ohio's Senate Bill Number 5 would ban collective bargaining for state workers. And limit it for those in local government, including police officers and firefighters. Jay McDonald is with the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police. He says the bill wouldn't let officers bargain over things like work safety issues. He says, for example, before collective bargaining...

Mr. JAY MCDONALD (Ohio Fraternal Order of Police): Departments did not provide vests to their employees. Now they do. And the reason is is because we have the ability to ask for them at the bargaining table.

GLINTON: Union leaders and Democrats say this whole thing is about sticking it to government workers. But the governor and Republicans says it's about $8 billion. That's Ohio's projected budget deficit over the next two years. Republican Ohio state senator Kevin Bacon say limiting collective bargaining would give employers the flexibility they need in this tough economy.

Senator KEVIN BACON (Republican, Ohio State Senate): The problem is the pay salary, right now, under the current structure in the state of Ohio, does not fluctuate with the health or viability of the government.

GLINTON: Unlike in other states, in Ohio this wouldn't likely come down to a straight party line vote. Some Republicans in the general assembly appear reluctant to vote for a measure many are calling anti-police.

(Soundbite of chanting and protestors)

GLINTON: Meanwhile, union leaders say if the bill does pass, they'll try a work around and take it straight to Ohio voters in the fall.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News Columbus.

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