Today, there’s another public committee hearing in Columbus, Ohio, on SB 5, a bill that would strip collective bargaining rights, in a variety of dimensions, from all public employees. Unlike in Wisconsin, police and firefighters are not exempted from this bill. I wrote about it and talked to the ranking Senate Democrat on the committee hearing the bill last 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.” [...]

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 protest crowd today in Ohio is enormous. There are no official numbers yet, but I’ve heard that they’re certainly the largest protests yet in Ohio against SB 5. Reuters puts it at more than 5,000, but the pic in the link above looks far bigger.

Ohio Republicans have promised to modify the bill from its current form, but the mood is such that any imposition on collective bargaining rights, seen as fundamental, will be met with a storm of protest. In particular, what Republicans and Gov. John Kasich want to do is to prohibit the right to strike for every public employee in Ohio at the state and local level. That effectively neutralizes the power workers have to bargain for their rights.

The committee hearing will produce those changes today. Much like in Wisconsin, you have the spectacle of Republicans wavering in their support while state Democrats are united in opposition. The Republicans don’t have the votes to pass the bill in its current form, or they would have passed it already. These changes may bring a couple Republicans back, but many of them have lots of public employees in their districts. Sen. Schiavoni wants the Governor to sit down and negotiate with the unions, but Kasich has refused, seemingly in violation of the collective bargaining agreement under which the public employee unions are currently operating.

There is high security and many restrictions at the Capitol in Columbus today. Last week, they locked protesters out of the building.

By the way, these protests aren’t just creating more sympathy for union workers as the last bastion of the middle class – they’re creating more union workers. Just last week, 800 university teachers in Eau Claire signed a contract.

The movement that started in Wisconsin continues to spread. You can watch a live broadcast of the Ohio rally on Ustream.