Ohio Senate Passes Bill Curbing Bargaining

The Ohio Senate voted 17-16 Wednesday afternoon to pass a bill that would curb collective-bargaining rights for the state's 400,000 public employees, while a similar union-related measure remained stalled in Wisconsin.

Genny Berglund, of Columbus, shows her support for Senate Bill 5, Wednesday, March 2, 2011, in Columbus, Ohio. Senate Bill 5 would strip public employees of collective bargaining rights. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)The Ohio Senate voted 17-16 Wednesday afternoon to pass a bill that would curb collective-bargaining rights for the state's 400,000 public employees, while a similar union-related measure remained stalled in Wisconsin.

Some Republicans joined Democrats in voting against Senate Bill 5 in the Ohio Senate, where Republicans have a 23-10 majority. The Senate's insurance, commerce and labor committee passed the bill Wednesday morning.

Senate Bill 5 would prohibit public-employee unions representing teachers, librarians, toll collectors and others from bargaining over health benefits, pensions and working conditions. Under the bill, unions could still negotiate wages, but striking would be prohibited for all public workers, taking away a major bargaining chip. Workers could face a fine of up to $1,000, or 30 days in jail, if they go on strike.

The legislation next moves to the Republican-controlled House. Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich supports the bill, saying it will give local governments more ability to control labor costs, according to spokesman Rob Nichols.

The bill passed the insurance committee on a 7-5 vote, with one Republican and all four Democrats on the committee voting against it. Prior to the vote, the Republican president of the Senate replaced one Republican lawmaker, who had voiced opposition to the bill, with another member who supported it. Jason Mauk, a spokesman for the Republican Senate caucus, said the change was made "so the committee could move the bill to the next stage of the process."

The switch prompted criticism by Senate Democrats. "At the last minute you have someone sit in there and vote 'Yes,' said Sen. Joe Schiavoni, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Republican lawmakers say the bill is needed to help state and local employers trim labor costs to help make up projected budget shortfalls statewide. "What we're trying to do is give them the flexibility so they can make adjustments, just like a business would," said Republican Sen. Kevin Bacon on Tuesday.

Members of the state's unionized public-sector work force, including teachers, snowplow drivers and parole officers, fear the bill will lead to steep cuts to benefits and pay. Trent Grove, a fourth-grade teacher in Columbus, said he worried that teachers' pay and benefits would be cut. He said he was also concerned that a range of school policies that the teachers union bargained for in the past would go away if the bill passed. "They could take away physical education or extracurricular activities and smaller class sizes," he said.

Meanwhile in Indiana, B. Patrick Bauer, the Democratic minority leader in the House, requested a meeting in Indianapolis with Republican House leader Brian Bosma to discuss a bill that would restrict union rights. Mr. Bauer and other House Democrats fled the state last week to avoid voting on the measure.

"The doors are going to be left open. There will be no backroom deals," said Tory Flynn, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bosma, who has refused to negotiate on about a dozen labor-related bills that Democrats oppose.

Mr. Bauer couldn't be reached to comment, and a spokesman for the Democratic caucus confirmed the meeting but said he didn't have any further information.

In Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers on Wednesday passed a resolution to fine the 14 Democrats who fled the state Feb. 17 to boycott Republican Gov. Scott Walker's bill to restrict public employees' collective-bargaining rights. Under the resolution, the missing Democrats will be fined $100 per day when the Senate is in session and they aren't there.

Mr. Walker says the restrictions on bargaining rights, and a provision in the bill requiring employees to contribute more out of their take-home pay toward pensions and health insurance, could be used to offset major cuts to school districts and local governments in the two-year budget he presented Tuesday.

The governor proposed cutting more than $1.25 billion from schools and local governments as part of a broad planned reduction in total spending of $4.2 billion, or 6.7%.

"What the governor has said to school districts is, you'll be able to manage these cuts if you are willing to take 10% of your employees' take-home pay away from them," by increasing salary deductions for pensions and health insurance, said Dan Rossmiller, director of government relations for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

The group is officially neutral on the plan to curtail bargaining rights but is "slightly supportive" of ordering teachers to make financial concessions, in light of the major cuts the governor proposed Tuesday, he said.

The governor's proposed budget recommends cutting by 5.5% the amount of revenue per student a district is allowed to collect, mainly from state aid and property taxes. That measure would prevent schools from raising property taxes to offset the lost state assistance.

The Milwaukee school district stands to lose about $47 million if that provision passes, while Madison schools would lose about $16 million, estimates Andrew Reschovsky, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of public affairs and applied economics.

"This is a dramatic break with the past," Mr. Reschovsky said of the proposed cuts.

Wall Street Journal