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Democrats Hope to Remind Voters of Senate Bill 5 in Advance of 2014 Elections

Monday, March 31, 2014 at 5:41 PM

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Democratic candidates for statewide office will be at events this week to mark the third anniversary of the signing of Senate Bill 5. That’s the controversial anti-collective bargaining law that was passed and later repealed back in 2011. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports on what happened back then -- and the future for anti-union legislation.

The 2010 midterm election was big for Republicans. Not only did they win every statewide elected office, they also won control of the Ohio House and retained control of the Ohio Senate. 

Almost as soon as Republican members were sworn into office, a proposal to make collective bargaining tougher emerged.

State Sen. Shannon Jones was the sponsor of the bill known as Senate Bill 5 that took away bargaining powers from public employees like teachers, police officers and firefighters.

“I’m not doing this to punish employees who serve the people of this state day after day,” Jones said at the time. “I am doing this because I want to give government the flexibility and control over its workforce that it can continue to provide taxpayers with the services needed in a way that is sustainable over time.”

The Republicans had won the election at a time when the state was strapped for cash, largely due to the national recession. In his first budget, Gov. John Kasich had cut local government funds to local communities. Jones maintained Senate Bill five was a way to make sure those communities could hold down costs but she denied it would take money from the pockets of public employees.

“Certainly it is possible that some positions—their salaries might be adjusted downward,” she said. “But I think it’s equally as likely (that in) many positions, those salaries might be adjusted upward.”

Union activists who interrupted that senate hearing were gaveled down.  But they were not silenced.  Even as Governor Kasich made his first State of the State speech inside the Ohio Statehouse that year, union activists who were watching on closed circuit television made their voices heard as Kasich was introduced by former Senate President Tom Niehaus.

But the angry scene inside the Statehouse paled in comparison to the furious protests outside the building—activists chanting “kill the bill.”

Democrats, like State Sen. Nina Turner, joined hands with union members in an effort to defeat the measure.

“Everybody knows that our public employees did not cause the fiscal crisis that we face in this state,” Turner said at the time.

Many protests continued as the bill was being debated, including one that attracted 8500 union activists. But that wasn’t enough to kill the bill. Kasich signed it into law March 31, 2011. But that wasn’t the end of the fight.

The union activists wanted to attempt a recall of Kasich, but Ohio law doesn’t allow that. So they focused on repealing the law.

That summer, Melissa Fazekas with the union-led group, said they collected way more than the 231,000 signatures needed to put the referendum on the ballot. 

“We have surpassed our signature goal by collected a staggering a 714,137 total signatures,” Fazekas said.

It was enough to put SB 5 on the November 2011 ballot. People on both sides of the issue debated it and a media campaign ensued

So what happened on Election day in 2011? More than 61 percent of Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected Senate Bill 5. 

And while that vote repealed that law, the idea of passing a law to restrict unions is still alive and well. In the days since SB 5 was repealed, some Republican lawmakers have proposed bills that unions say would weaken their power. Those bills haven’t passed. 

A citizens group has talked about putting what they call a workplace freedom bill on the ballot this fall but that measure hasn’t garnered support from Republican leaders in the legislature and it looks doubtful that the proposal will be on the ballot this fall. 

As voters go to the polls later this year, these anti-union efforts might seem like a distant memory. But Democrats say the threat of cracking down on unions still exists—and they promise to talk about that possibility a lot in the coming months.

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Government/Politics, Elections

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