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Ohio Senate OKs bill that would restrict public unions

- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio | The bargaining rights of public workers in Ohio would be dramatically reduced and strikes would be banned under a bill narrowly passed by the Ohio Senate on Wednesday.

A Republican-backed measure that would restrict the collective bargaining rights of roughly 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees squeaked through the state Senate on a 17-16 vote. Six Republicans sided with Democrats against the measure.

Firefighters and teachers shouted "Shame!" in the chamber as the legislation was approved.

The bill would ban strikes by public workers and establish penalties for those who do participate in walkouts. Unionized workers could negotiate wages, hours and certain work conditions - but not health care, sick time or pension benefits.

The legislation would also set up a new process to settle worker disputes, giving elected officials the final say in contract disagreements. Binding arbitration, which police officers and firefighters use to resolve contract disputes as an alternative to strikes, would be eliminated.

Republican Sens. Tim Grendell of Chesterland and Bill Seitz of Cincinnati spoke out against that provision. Mr. Grendell said the process would turn workers into beggars before city councils and other officials who oversee them.

"No one can be a judge and advocate in their own cause," Mr. Seitz said. "That's called heads I win, tails you lose."

The bill had passed a Senate committee after leadership replaced Mr. Seitz on the panel after he expressed disappointment in the bill, a move that secured the votes needed to get the legislation before the full Senate.

Extra chairs had to be brought in to accommodate the public attending the hearing. Prohibited from clapping, many wagged or waved their hands in response to pro-labor comments.

The bill now goes to the state House, where the Republicans hold a 59-40 majority. If passed there, it would go to Republican Gov. John Kasich, who has said he supports the effort.

During the debate, the chamber defeated Democrats' request to have the entire bill read aloud. Republican Sen. Scott Oelslager of North Canton sided with Democrats on that issue, as he did on the bill.

The bill sponsor, Republican Sen. Shannon Jones had said the bill, which would change a 27-year-old Ohio law, is long overdue and would help state and local governments control costs.

Mrs. Jones said the bill is not an attack on the middle class, prompting snickering and coughs from members of the public in the crowded room. Democratic lawmakers pointed out teachers, pipefitters and public safety workers from their districts as the hearing began.

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