Controversial bill backed by Governor John Kasich and state Republicans that would have eliminated collective bargaining rights for public employees repealed


Story Transcript

DAVID DOUGHERTY, TRNN PRODUCER: A referendum held in Ohio on Tuesday, November 8, resulted in the repeal of a controversial bill backed by Governor John Kasich and state Republicans that would have eliminated collective bargaining rights for public employees. More than 61 percent of participating voters rejected Senate Bill 5, which appeared as issue number two on local elections ballots. With 46 percent of eligible voters participating, Ohio witnessed its highest voter turnout in an off-year election since 1991. The bill faced considerable resistance since being passed by the Ohio House in March earlier this year, leading opposition groups to initiate a successful signature-collecting campaign that placed the issue on the November ballot. Senate Bill 5’s defeat is considered a major victory for public workers, organized labor, and the Democratic Party. Columbus firefighters union president Jack Reall notes how the anti-union legislation has helped to rejuvenate the organized labor movement in Ohio.

JACK REALL, PRESIDENT, COLUMBUS FIREFIGHTERS UNION LOCAL 6: Probably the biggest part of this is, you know, the referendum, they needed 231,000 signatures, and we brought in 1.3 million. First off, that shows what kind of passion is behind this issue. And second off, what it’s done is it’s really helped mobilize public workers and got them more interested not only politics but in organized labor again. You know, many of our workers have become complacent about the impact of their union on their workplace, and Senate Bill 5 has reintroduced a lot of workers to their union in both their organization, their participation, and their politics.

DOUGHERTY: Unlike similar legislation targeting public workers’ collective bargaining rights in states like Wisconsin, SB5 extended its reach to include firefighters and police officers, raising questions about public safety and further fueling popular resentment. Police and firefighters say they need to be able to negotiate with management to ensure that they maintain safe staffing levels and adequate equipment. At the polls on Tuesday, some voters expressed moral concerns over the potentially harmful effects of restricting bargaining rights for public workers who may already be facing a number of pressures due to deep cuts in public spending.

EUGENE BEER, VOTER, COLUMBUS, OHIO: I voted no on SB5. I think it’s a way-off-base law. I mean, I know a lot of teachers and I feel that they’re drastically underpaid as it is, using their own salary to buy school supplies, hundreds of dollars of school supplies. And to think about reducing their retirement or their ability to bargain for work conditions and wages and retirement, I just don’t think it’s fair. So I voted against it, not only for teachers but other public employees, like firefighters and police, the nurses also, and state facilities.

DOUGHERTY: Millions of dollars poured into Ohio in the months leading up to the referendum, funding a slew of public relations campaigns both for and against SB5. A number of politically influential labor unions, as well as corporate-funded conservative lobbying giants like Americans for Prosperity, funneled massive amounts of money into the election, which was targeted by Republicans and Democrats as a key political battle. Building a Better Ohio is the political action committee that campaigned in support of Governor Kasich’s bill. They have argued that legislation like SB5 is needed to reduce and better manage government spending and budget deficits. When contacted for an interview, Building a Better Ohio referred The Real News Network to the Ohio Republican Party headquarters, who were unavailable for comment. The We Are Ohio group is the main political action committee campaigning against SB5. They held a formal party to await the election results at the Columbus Hyatt, which featured a number of union and Democratic Party leaders. We Are Ohio spokeswoman Melissa Fazekas says the election results are a victory for Ohio public workers, which she says have already made significant financial sacrifices in recent years.

MELISSA FAZEKAS, SPOKESWOMAN, “WE ARE OHIO”: I think that we presented very clear arguments to show that public employees are problem solvers, that over the last three years in Ohio, they’ve actually given back over $1 billion worth of sacrifices. Through the current collective bargaining process, they were able to come to the table and make those sacrifices and help their state and local governments.

DOUGHERTY: According to Columbus City School teacher and union representative Maree Bednar, public workers should not have been targeted to help pay for a financial crisis that she says they did not help create.

MAREE BEDNAR, COLUMBUS CITY SCHOOL TEACHER, FACULTY REPRESENTATIVE WITH CEA: One thing that we keep hearing in the ads, local ads, and this may be happening in other places as well, is that it’s time for public workers to do their fair share and help the taxpayers out. And I just want everyone to know that we are taxpayers as well. I pay taxes on what I earn. And, you know, public employees did not create this financial problem, and public employees and the people they serve should not be scapegoated for that. Politicians should take care of the mess they’ve created.

DOUGHERTY: Thousands of Ohio public workers could still face pension hikes and layoffs as part of Governor Kasich’s recently approved budget, which he said was easier to pass as organizers and political groups had shifted their focus on SB5. Regardless, the bill’s defeat is considered a major victory for public workers and the organized labor movement, which have both faced a number of legislative attacks across the country in 2011. Ohio’s Tuesday election results might also prove to be a strategic advance for Democrats in what is slated to become an important swing state in the upcoming 2012 presidential elections. This is David Dougherty with The Real News Network.

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