Despite massive rallies and town hall meetings throughout the state including a huge all-day demonstration at the Statehouse Tuesday, legislators moved forward to enact a bill to end 28 years of collective bargaining rights and break public employee unions.
While the largest crowd of protesters yet to come to Columbus rallied inside and outside the Capitol, the radical measure, Senate Bill 5, promoted by Republican Gov. John Kasich, was amended and voted out of the Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee Tuesday and may be voted on Wednesday in the Senate where Republicans hold a ten-vote majority.
Labor leaders denounced the amended bill, which allegedly retains the right to bargain collectively, as even worse than the original proposal. Eddie Parks, President of the Ohio Civil Service Employee Association, representing the bulk of state workers, said the amendments "take more than they give" since they narrow the scope of bargaining, subject striking public workers to heavy fines, discharge and even jail time, allow local governments and school districts to nullify contracts on fiscal grounds, facilitate privatization and give the legislature final authority over all agreements.
The amendments, Parks said, "defeat the purpose of collective bargaining altogether."
"It's worse than before," said Mark Horton, treasurer of the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters, to the New York Times. "We are beside ourselves," he said.
At a town hall meeting/rally called by Cleveland area legislators in a tavern Sunday, Steve Loomis, President of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association said firefighters, police and emergency medical employees have formed a statewide Safety Force coalition with 40,000 members to oppose the bill. The bar was packed to the gills with hundreds repeatedly chanting, "Kill the bill." Loomis said the mass protests "are keeping us in the room" and held out hope that enough Republicans would be won over.
Three Republican Senators, Tom Patton of Cleveland, Scott Oelslager of Canton and Bill Seitz of Cincinnati have announced they would vote against the bill. A Republican aide told the Columbus Dispatch that calls and emails are running nine to one against the measure.
Loomis also spoke at a rally of hundreds in Cleveland City Hall Monday where the City Council unanimously adopted a resolution to oppose the bill. "This is not just a piece of paper," Loomis said. "This is huge. Kasich is going around the state saying local governments want SB 5."
Resolutions opposing the bill have also been adopted by City Councils in Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo and by the trustees of Austintown, a suburb of Youngstown.
Residents poured into town hall meetings in Athens in southeastern Ohio Saturday and Jefferson in the northeastern part of the state Monday to oppose the bill highlighting the serious concern in smaller towns that wage cuts and layoffs of public employees could have devastating economic impacts.
"If this passes our town is dead," said Charles Smith, Jr., a harness race horse driver from Mt. Vernon in central Ohio, one of the demonstrators at the Statehouse. "My industry depends on people having extra money to gamble with," he added. "Last year I was in 372 races, but it's way down this year because there are no jobs. I don't know what the answer is, but this is going in the wrong direction."
Speakers at all the events stressed the need to focus on preserving and creating jobs, not eliminating them, and said that was the whole meaning of the November election which Kasich narrowly won by falsely blaming former Gov. Ted Strickland for the recession and said he would do better at creating jobs.
Kasich is expected to face a massive protest Thursday when he visits Cleveland to attend Mayor Frank Jackson's State of the City address in Public Hall. Actions are also energizing public universities with a teach-in Wednesday at Ohio University in Athens and a student strike called for Friday at the giant Ohio State University campus in Columbus.
Labor leaders and the Democratic Party have vowed to place a referendum on the November ballot to repeal the bill if it passes the Legislature.