Ohio Considers Union Bill as Critics Shout Outside

March 1, 2011 - 3:53 PM

Columbus, Ohio (AP) - As thousands of protesters kept watch, an Ohio state Senate panel considered whether to ban all public workers in the state from striking and subject them to fines and possible jail time for participating in walkouts.

The proposals were changes made to a bill restricting collective bargaining, an issue that is igniting in statehouses across the country, most notably in Wisconsin, where a scheduled vote on a similar bill prompted Democratic lawmakers to flee the state.

The Ohio Senate committee could vote on the changes as early as Wednesday and send the measure to the full Senate, where Republicans hold a 23-10 majority. The committee's chairman, state Sen. Kevin Bacon, said he had the votes to move the legislation forward but wanted to give lawmakers time to review the revisions.

"Right now, it's not a matter of about getting the votes," Bacon said. "It's a matter of being transparent, letting everyone see the proposed changes and what the final bill is going to look like."

Democrats and union groups have rallied thousands of state workers, teachers, firefighters, police and other public employees they say would be hurt by the measure. An estimated 8,500 people gathered inside and outside the Statehouse to protest the legislation.

The crowd screamed and chanted, "Kill the bill." Some held signs saying, "Recall Kasich," referring to the state's new Republican governor, John Kasich.

"We've got to show that there are an awful lot of people in Ohio in the middle class that don't want any part of this," said Steve Turner, 67, a retired teacher from Grove City.

The bill's sponsor, state GOP Sen. Shannon Jones, offered a 98-page amendment during a brief committee hearing Tuesday. The revisions include the ban on striking for all 350,000 public employees in Ohio. They also outline penalties for violators including a fine of up to $1,000, up to 30 days in jail, or both.

Another change allows state employees in unions to bargain for their wages, hours and certain working conditions, such as safety. They would not be able to negotiate their health care or pension benefits.

The changes also set up a new process to settle public workers' disputes. If the parties couldn't reach agreement, they could request the State Employment Relations Board to intervene and appoint a mediator.

Kasich urged his supporters in fundraising e-mail Tuesday to call their elected officials and ask them to back the collective bargaining bill.

"I recognize that change is difficult, but we must stand together," Kasich said. "This issue is about our desire to give more power to the taxpayers in our state."

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Associated Press writers Kantele Franko and Julie Carr Smyth contributed to this report.