Another state has secured victory in the battle to balance struggling state budgets by restricting collective bargaining rights for public-sector employees. Ohio Governor John Kasich has approved Senate Bill (SB) 5, a bill that is in some ways more restrictive than the highly publicized and protested Wisconsin bill that passed earlier this year.
The bill limits collective bargaining rights for public employees by prohibiting negotiations on health care, sick time, and pension benefits. Public employees would still be permitted to negotiate wages and certain work conditions but would be prohibited from participating in strikes. SB 5 also requires public employees to contribute a higher percentage of their health and pension benefits, reduces the number of vacation days and paid holidays for workers, and eliminates automatic pay increases, instead adopting a system of merit raises and performance pay.
Just before its Wednesday passage through both houses of the Ohio Legislature, the bill received a few last-minute amendments, including a provision that bans the collection of “fair share” dues from nonunion employees who benefit from contract negotiations. The revisions also removed jail time as a possible penalty for participation in a strike or walkout.
Unlike Wisconsin’s measure, the Ohio legislation extends its restrictions to police officers and firefighters. The bill also eliminates binding arbitration as a means for resolving contract disputes and instead adopts a new dispute process in which a body of elected officials would have the authority to accept the last, best offer from either a union or public employer when an agreement can’t be reached via negotiations.
Ohio has the sixth largest number of union members in the country — almost twice as many as Wisconsin — and opponents of the bill aren’t accepting defeat just yet. Ohio Democrats hope to overturn the new law by placing it on the November ballot for referendum vote.
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