MADISON, WI (FDL) – While the nation, and this reporter, is transfixed on Wisconsin, another Midwestern state just to the south has a similar battle going on. In Ohio, Republican Gov. John Kasich is trying to restrict and in some cases eliminate public employee collective bargaining in a bill known as SB 5. Unlike Scott Walker’s bill, which has exemptions for public safety employees, Kasich’s bill in Ohio would not exempt police and fire, instead taking away their binding arbitration and the right to strike. This has law enforcement and firefighters up in arms in Ohio, along with public employees across the state. Over 10,000 showed up in Columbus at the state house earlier this week.
I talked to Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D-Youngstown), the ranking member of the Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee, which has jurisdiction over SB 5. The bill has had hearings in committee but has not yet passed through it, with Republicans vowing changes. Schiavoni told me that there are different provisions in the bill for different types of public employees. Some, including corrections officers, would have all their rights stripped. Teachers would only be allowed to bargain on salary and grievance issues. And police and fire would have their right to strike and binding arbitration taken away. “If you take away the right to strike, Schiavoni said, “you have no bargaining leverage. You have no threat.”
Schiavoni said that Republicans are feeling the heat on this bill. “They don’t have 17 yet or they would’ve passed it already,” referring to the 17 out of 33 votes needed to pass the bill in the State Senate. Republicans control 23 of 33 seats in the upper chamber, but anywhere between 6 and 9 Republicans are either opposed to the bill in its current form, or on the fence. Republicans are working on a substitute bill now, which may include a restoration of bargaining for wages, and they claim they have the votes. But this seems like bluster, as action has been stalled amid the protests.
“I’ve been holding events in my district, we had 1,500 at Youngstown State the other day,” Schiavoni said. “I’m in Miles today, Lorain last night. All the Democrats are holding district events. And we’re telling people, you have our support, let the Republicans know that if they vote for this, they will not have support for their re-election.” He said that many of the Senate Republicans have large numbers of public employees in their districts.
Public employees in Ohio made $250 million in concessions to help balance the budget in 2009, including cuts to their wages. “Our middle class is afraid that they’re being kicked while they’re down,” Schiavoni said. “They gave up $250 million two years ago, and now they want to take away their rights? It’s completely unfair. Public employees didn’t cause these budget problems. We have an $8 billion deficit on a budget due July 1, and we’re wasting our time with this bill to take away worker’s rights.”
The overhaul of collective bargaining in Ohio, much like Wisconsin, could put federal transportation money in jeopardy, costing the state much of its $171 million annual haul. So this hardly has anything to do with the budget. Instead, it’s part of a pattern of new right-wing governors taking advantage of their opportunities to force through ideological policy they have long sought.
What’s happening in Wisconsin is, instead, a power grab — an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting. The bill in question is 144 pages long, and there are some extraordinary things hidden deep inside [...]
don’t expect either Mr. Walker or the rest of his party to change those goals. Union-busting and privatization remain G.O.P. priorities, and the party will continue its efforts to smuggle those priorities through in the name of balanced budgets.
The Wonk Room printed a list of the 10 worst policies inside the Wisconsin budget repair bill, and similarly, under the guise of the budget in Ohio, John Kasich is aiming to implement a severely ideological anti-union policy.
Sen. Schiavoni believes that this extreme behavior has lit a fire in the public and particularly among public employees nationwide. We’re seeing the stirrings of a labor revival, in Ohio, Wisconsin and across the country. “What a coincidence that it’s happening in these states with Republican takeovers, right,” said Schiavoni.