Ohioans Vote to Overturn Bargaining Limits

Published November 9, 2011

Ohioans on Tuesday voted 61 percent to 39 percent to repeal Senate Bill 5, a law that would have limited the collective-bargaining ability of public-employee unions. Support for the repeal had majorities in 82 of Ohio’s 88 counties.

AFL-CIO spokeswoman Amaya Tune said Wednesday this is “not just a victory for unions but a huge victory for working families in Ohio.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released a triumphant statement Tuesday night, saying, “Ohio’s working people successfully fought back against lies pushed by shadowy multi-national corporations and their anonymous front groups that attempted to scapegoat public service employees and everyone they serve by assaulting collective bargaining rights.”

Matt Mayer, president of the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions in Columbus, Ohio, said Trumka “needs to get some more sleep. The working class in Ohio are not government workers; they are people out of jobs.”

Foregone Cost Controls

Mayer used Ohio school districts’ own numbers to calculate that by 2015 the schools will have a deficit of $7.6 billion, with 96 percent of education tax dollars spent on employee compensation.

Mayer projected Senate Bill 5 would have enabled local governments to save taxpayers about $1.3 billion next year alone. It became law last spring but was not implemented.

Republican Gov. John Kasich had been a staunch defender of SB 5 since signing it into law on March 31. He defended it in numerous TV commercials and at campaign rallies during the repeal campaign.

The now-repealed law would have limited public-sector union powers in several ways, such as preventing them from going on strike and stopping them from charging union fees to nonmembers covered by their contracts.

Possible Layoffs

Rebecca Heimlich, Ohio’s state director of Americans for Prosperity, noted Ohioans have also consistently rejected tax increases in the last few months. Increasing taxes is one of only three ways to resolve a local fiscal crisis, she observed. The others are to reduce expensive benefits for government workers (which the defeated SB 5 might have led to), or to cut pay and personnel.

Heimlich said Wednesday, “I’m projecting that what we’re going to see is mass layoffs, because voters have shown that when they’re given the choice, they don’t have a tolerance for tax increases, because they can’t afford them.”

Mayer said Kasich and Republican lawmakers would be wise to step back from the issue now.

Pause in Fight

“The smart next step for the Republicans is to essentially say, ‘Okay, you won on this issue. So we’re going to allow you to propose bills on the reforms you think need to happen.'”

Kasich may be taking this advice. On Tuesday night he told backers, “It’s time to pause. The people have spoken clearly. You don’t ignore the public.”

The Ohio ballot fight is being compared to measures limiting collective-bargaining rights in Wisconsin that took effect nearly one year ago. Those limits survived vocal union opposition and legal challenges. One difference is that the Wisconsin law excluded firefighters and policemen. Kasich’s bill would have limited the collective-bargaining rights of all public-sector workers.

Ballot Bellwether for 2012?

Democrats and union leaders see the successful repeal in Ohio as a positive sign for them in the 2012 elections, partly because the repeal effort organized and energized the unions. In a victory speech Tuesday night, Stephen Loomis, president of Cleveland’s police union, said, “Thank you, John Kasich, for uniting the labor movement like it’s never been before.”

But Ohioans’ treatment of an important health care measure also on Tuesday’s ballot complicates the picture. More than 65 percent of voters, with majorities in all 88 counties, voted in favor of an amendment to the state’s constitution to exempt Ohio from President Obama’s national health care mandate.

Meghan Snyder, spokeswoman for Ohioans for Healthcare Freedom, called this “a resounding victory” with “plenty of national significance.” She pointed out in particular that U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat who has been a prominent supporter of Obama’s healthcare reform, must face the voters again in 2012.

Mike Reid ([email protected]) writes from Manitoba, Canada.