COLUMBUS — The bargaining rights of public workers in Ohio would be dramatically reduced and strikes would be banned under a bill narrowly passed by the Ohio Senate yesterday.
The GOP-backed measure that would restrict the collective bargaining rights of roughly 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees squeaked through the state Senate on a 17-16 vote. Six Republicans sided with Democrats against the measure.
Representatives from the Republican and Democratic parties of Athens County had differing views of the decisive vote.
Athens County Democratic Party Chairman Bill Bias said he believes this will lead to a “rollback of workers’ rights.”
“I am very disappointed in Sen. Stewart’s tiebreaking vote. I think this will hurt the middle class,” Bias said. “We will see layoffs at OU that will continue throughout the city of Athens.”
Pete Couladis, the county’s Republican Party chairman, said there needed to be some changes to the collective bargaining law.
“This binding arbitrary law takes authority away from our elected officials,” he said. “Public employees keep getting benefits at the taxpayers’ expense, so there needs to be changes in that system.”
State Rep. Debbie Phillips (D-92nd) said she worried about what effect this will have on working conditions for public employees.
“We have important things we need to be working on such as balancing the budget and job creation, and this bill is not going to do that,” she said. “It is a huge distraction from the real problem.”
The Ohio bill would ban strikes by public workers and establish penalties for those who do participate in walkouts. Unionized workers could negotiate wages, hours and certain work conditions — but not health care, sick time or pension benefits.
The legislation would also set up a new process to settle worker disputes, giving elected officials the final say in contract disagreements. Binding arbitration, which police officers and firefighters use to resolve contract disputes as an alternative to strikes, would be eliminated.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican like his counterpart, Scott Walker, in Wisconsin, praised the development. Both have pushed the collective bargaining bills as part of budget-balancing measures.
Republican Sens. Tim Grendell of Chesterland and Bill Seitz of Cincinnati spoke out against that provision. Grendell said the process would turn workers into beggars before city councils and other officials who oversee them.
The bill now goes to the state House, where the GOP holds a 59-40 majority. If passed there, it would go to Kasich, a strong supporter.