In Ohio, organized labor won an enormous and expected victory Tuesday with the resounding defeat of the state’s new law limiting collective bargaining.
With tempers flaring and union activists working full throttle against the law after a summer of Statehouse protests, Senate Bill 5, which affected about 350,000 public employees, including teachers, firefighters and law enforcement personnel, was losing by a better than 3 to 2 margin.
With 28 percent of precincts reporting, 62 percent voted for repeal and 38 percent against it, according to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office.
Republicans weren’t shut out entirely Tuesday in Ohio, however, as voters, in a largely symbolic gesture, backed a measure disapproving of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
The union victory, aided by mild weather and high voter turnout, was seen as a huge political blow for Republican Gov. John Kasich, who had championed the measure as one of his signature issues.
Since it was passed by the state legislature last March, the law had polarized voters and public employees. Spending to turn out the vote in a repeal election topped $30 million.
The Ohio showdown also mirrored the labor backlash that has been seen in other places in the Midwest, including Wisconsin, where a Republican-led legislature and governor pushed back hard against union forces and collective-bargaining laws, triggering expensive legislative recall elections and a possible referendum vote next spring against Gov. Scott Walker.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, which had supported the repeal, called the win Tuesday “a major victory for working families in Ohio and across the country.”
What the labor win in Ohio means for the national political scene remains to be seen with the state viewed as a likely swing state for 2012.
President Obama leads all GOP presidential candidates in statewide polls, but 51 percent of Ohioans disapprove of his job performance, and 49 percent say he doesn’t deserve re-election, according to a Quinnipiac University survey released Oct. 26.
Mr. Kasich defended the law Monday while campaigning against its repeal, noting that local governments have been forced to increase taxes by about 42 percent over the last decade. He also said it would help Ohio bring more jobs into the state.
“We can’t have local governments dragging us down and making it more difficult to bring those jobs in here,” he said. “And I tell you this, the rest of the country, these other states, they watch us; they learn from us.”
But even in counties where Mr. Kasich had won handily in his gubernatorial race, voters pushed back hard to repeal the legislation.
Supporters of the collective-bargaining curbs in Ohio argued that more controls should be in place for financially strapped communities to manage their shrinking budgets, while opponents said the law was an overreach and against the values of the working class in a state that is blue-collar strong.
Members of private-sector unions joined forces with public employees to campaign against the collective-bargaining law, mounting a fierce door-to-door and phone-bank operation around the state to get out the vote in an off-year election.
More than 1.2 million signatures were collected to put the issue on the Ohio ballot.