An Ohio bill that would limit collective bargaining rights for 350,000 public workers was poised for a vote before the Republican-controlled House on Wednesday, one of its final hurdles before the measure goes to the governor.
The vote comes a day after a legislative committee approved changes to make the bill even tougher for unions. Met with chants of “Shame on you!” from nearby protesters, the GOP-backed revisions greased the measure for what was expected to be smooth passage in the House.
The Senate, also controlled by Republicans, narrowly passed the bill on a 17-16 vote this month. It would have to agree to the revisions before Gov. John Kasich could sign it into law.
Kasich, a first-term Republican, supports the proposal and is comfortable with the changes, his spokesman said.
Contentious debates over restricting collective bargaining have popped up in statehouses across the country, most notably in Wisconsin, where the governor signed into law this month a bill eliminating most of state workers’ collective bargaining rights. That measure exempts police officers and firefighters; Ohio’s does not.
The Ohio bill would apply to public workers across the state, such as police officers, firefighters, teachers and state employees. They could negotiate wages and certain work conditions but not health care, sick time or pension benefits. The bill would do away with automatic pay raises and would base future wage increases on merit. Workers would also be banned from striking.
Much of the legislation remained intact even with the committee’s more than a dozen changes.
The bill drew thousands of demonstrators, prompted a visit from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and packed hearing rooms in the weeks before the Senate passed the measure.
Its reception in the House has been quieter. But on Tuesday, an estimated 450 protesters listened to the committee’s amendments over the loudspeakers positioned around the Statehouse before they headed outside, shouting, “Kill the bill!”
Opponents planned more rallies Wednesday.
Kasich’s $55.5 billion, two-year spending plan for the state counts on savings from relaxed union rights at the state and local levels. Local governments and school districts face deep cuts in the wake of the state’s $8 billion budget gap. And the governor and his Republican colleagues argue the bill would help city officials and superintendents better control their costs.
Democrats offered no amendments Tuesday. Instead, they delivered boxes containing more than 65,000 opponent signatures to the House labor committee’s chairman.
The GOP-backed revisions make it more difficult for unions to collect certain fees. The committee also altered the bill to ban automatic deductions from employee paychecks that would go the unions’ political arm. Other changes would prevent nonunion employees affected by contracts from paying fees to union organizations.
Unions argue that their contracts cover those nonunion workers and that letting them not pay unfairly spreads the costs to dues-paying members.
“Not only are they attacking middle-class wages, rights and benefits, but now the bill will punish people for even joining a union,” said Eddie L. Parks, president of the 34,000-member Ohio Civil Service Employees Association. “Those who join will be picking up the tab for those who don’t.”
Lawmakers also revised the bill to include more details on who defines merit and performance pay. For instance, performance pay for teachers would be based upon a statewide framework from the state Department of Education.
Jennifer Blair, a 33-year-old music teacher from Westerville, said she is protesting a bill she believes will “destroy public education as we know it.”
“It’s setting out to take away services our children have, take away services our teachers have, supplies in our classroom, teachers’ rights, class size, safety issues in the classroom for our special needs teachers,” she said.
Opponents have vowed to lead a ballot repeal effort if the Ohio measure passes.
AP Statehouse Correspondent Julie Carr Smyth contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press