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August 22, 2011

Learning Wisconsinís Lesson

Michael Kurtianyk

It was with great amusement that Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) offered to meet and discuss a compromise on a new law limiting collective bargaining among unions in that state. The bill, known as SB-5, was signed into law on March 31.


It was, however, not allowed to go into effect until November, thanks to a petition which triggered a referendum. August 30 is the final day that lawmakers could remove the issue from the November ballot.


The law restricts collective bargaining rights for more than 350,000 teachers, police officers, state employees, et al. It allows public worker unions to negotiate wages, but not health care, sick time or pension benefits. It bans public employee strikes and gets rid of automatic pay increases. Under the Ohio plan, police and firefighters can’t bargain with cities over the number of people required to be on duty. That means they can't negotiate the number of staff on fire trucks or in police cars, for example.


Now why would Governor Kasich do this? Well, he did ask labor unions to "set aside political agendas and past offenses" and cut a deal, a move he said would be in the "best interest of everyone, including public employee unions." Furthermore, Governor Kasich added that the offer stems from his being a "believer in talking," and not out of "a fear we are going to lose."




He wants people to believe that? Of course, he would lose. How do we know this?


One needs to look no further than nearby Wisconsin.


Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed a bill into law that stripped unions of their collective bargaining rights. He proposed eliminating most collective bargaining for public workers except police, firefighters and the State Patrol. All 14 of Wisconsin’s Democratic senators fled to Illinois in February in an effort to prevent a vote, but Republicans got around this by convening a special committee to remove the fiscal parts of the bill and allow a vote with fewer members present. By stripping the bill of its spending language, they were able to pass it with only Republicans present.


And all this is happening in the state which first granted collective-bargaining rights to its public employees in 1959.


Every Republican in the Wisconsin Senate voted for the union-stripping bill, except for one: Sen. Dale Schultz. Those who were so angry with this in Wisconsin managed to get recall elections against six Republican senators who were eligible for recall. The Republicans then said that they’d hold recall elections against the three Democratic senators who were eligible.


All of the elections have now been decided and here are the results: none of the three Democrats were recalled; two of the Republicans were. For those scoring at home, the Wisconsin Senate, which used to have five more Republicans, now has one more Republican (the margin is now 17-16). When you factor in the one dissenting Republican (Senator Schultz), Wisconsin now has a majority of senators against the unions being stripped of their collective bargaining rights.


Now we get to the real reason why Ohio Governor Kasich wants to talk to the 10 union leaders authorized to negotiate on behalf of “We Are Ohio,” the group pushing for a repeal of the law.


Can anyone say “political survival?”


So, now the governor of Ohio wants to talk. Where was he earlier this year when he pushed through this union-stripping bill? Oh, wait, he had a mandate by the voters. Oh, yeah, swagger begets wish-fulfillment.


After all the rhetoric and the demonization of unions from the governor, he wants a conditional compromise: he’ll talk about changing the law, but only if the group known as “We Are Ohio” pulls the plug on putting this on the November ballot.


Many hope that “We Are Ohio” doesn’t pull the plug. The governor is scared, having seen what happened in Wisconsin.


Good. He should be scared.


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