COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - More than 8,000 protesters converged on Ohio’s state capital on Tuesday as state lawmakers considered a bill similar to one proposed in Wisconsin to curtail the power of public sector unions.
Republican supporters of the Ohio proposal said the limits to public workers’ ability to bargain are necessary to give local governments flexibility and help reduce the state’s two-year budget deficit of about $8 billion.
“In terms of people protesting, more power to them, this is democracy,” said State Sen. Kevin Bacon, the Republican chair of the senate’s Insurance, Commerce and Labor committee, which received a revised version of the bill Tuesday. But Bacon said “how much noise” people make isn’t the issue.
Labor unions and Democrats have protested that the bill goes too far in sacrificing public workers’ rights.
One unemployed protester, Evan Goodenow, 46, from Bellevue, Ohio, said he was raised by a single mother who was a union meter maid. “She would be rolling over in her grave if she knew what was going on now.”
“This isn’t about deficits. This is about union-busting,” he said.
Bacon presided over a committee hearing Tuesday that introduced about 100 pages of amendments to the bill, and took less than 30 minutes. Democrats protested that they needed more time to review the amendments, and the hearing was adjourned until Wednesday morning. The full Senate may vote on the bill this week.
The amended bill is softened from its original form, which would have prohibited collective bargaining for 42,000 state workers in addition to 19,500 workers in the state’s university and college system. This would have gone even further than the controversial collective bargaining bill being debated in Wisconsin and end a right established in 1983 for Ohio’s public-sector workers.
For local governments that bargain with unions representing some 300,000 workers including police, firefighters, and public school teachers, the bill removes health care and some other benefits from the negotiating process.
The amended bill would restore collective bargaining power for public employees on wages, but also prohibit striking for any public employee on the state and local level.
Senate Republican spokesman Jason Mauk said the changes bring the bill more in line with the views of Republican Gov. John Kasich, who wanted to preserve some collective bargaining but did not want to allow strikes.
Wisconsin is in its third week of protests over its proposed collective bargaining bill. Republicans there have offered no compromises on the bill.
Like Wisconsin, Ohio has a new Republican governor and Republican majorities in both legislative houses. Democratic senators in Wisconsin have left the state to prevent Republicans from having a quorum, thus delaying a vote on the collective bargaining bill.
But Ohio only requires a simple majority to vote on bills, so it would do Ohio Democrats no good to leave the state.
“They’d be happy if we did because then they wouldn’t have to listen to us,” said Democratic State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, the labor committee’s ranking minority member. He planned to meet with Bacon Tuesday evening and go over the amendments “with a fine-toothed comb” before the committee hearing Wednesday. “We’re going to have plenty of questions tomorrow.”
One of the Columbus protesters, Ann Furek, 50, of Dresden, a retired public school teacher, said she had voted Republican in the past but voted against Kasich, adding that Republicans she knows who felt Kasich would be pro-education are “disappointed.”
Editing by Jerry Norton and Greg McCune