The Republican-led House in the state of Ohio has voted to severely limit the collective bargaining rights of 350,000 public workers, sending a bill that’s sparked weeks of pro-labour protests back to the state Senate.
Chants of “Shame on you!” from onlookers broke out immediately after the full House approved the measure on a 53-44 vote. It was possible a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate, which narrowly approved an earlier version of the legislation, would soon follow.
About 150 protesters started to gather in the Senate chamber, singing “We shall not moved” and chanting “Power to the people!”
The measure allows unions to negotiate wages but not health care, sick time or pension benefits. It also does away with automatic pay increases in favour of merit raises. Workers also would be banned from striking.
The Ohio legislation will affect safety workers, teachers, nurses and a host of other government personnel.
A similar law passed by Republican lawmakers in the state of Wisconsin has prompted large protest rallies. The Wisconsin legislation exempts police officers and firefighters.
Wisconsin’s Republicans pushed through passage of the law earlier this month despite three weeks of massive protests that drew up to 85,000 people to the state capitol and a boycott by Democratic state senators.
Opponents immediately filed a series of lawsuits that resulted in further chaos that might not end until Wisconsin’s Supreme Court weighs in.
Both measures aim to strip away workers’ rights to collectively bargain for anything except wages. Conservatives argue that such measures are needed to balance budgets and pare down deficits. But opponents say it’s union-busting.
There are concerns that legislative success in Ohio and Wisconsin could prompt other states with Republican-led governments to push similar bills.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich has said his $55.5 billion state budget counts on unspecified savings from lifting union protections to fill an $8 billion hole.
The Ohio bill has drawn thousands of demonstrators, prompted a visit from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and packed hearing rooms in the weeks before the Senate passed the measure. The largest drew about 8,500 people despite the state’s long union tradition among steel and auto workers.
Its reception in the House has been quieter, though Wednesday’s vote drew several hundred demonstrators to the Statehouse.
Democrats oppose the measure, but have offered no amendments to it. Instead, they delivered boxes containing more than 65,000 opponent signatures to the House labour committee’s chairman.