Ohioans vote on collective bargaining rights

The battle over collective bargaining rights continues Tuesday when Ohio voters go to the polls to decide whether or not to repeal Senate Bill 5, a law limiting collective bargaining rights for union workers.

When Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, helped to push through a bill curbing the collective bargaining rights of state employees, unions mounted a petition to defeat the law, bringing it to a referendum.

Ohio’s controversial measure followed the effort of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, another Republican, which sparked turmoil and resulted in recall elections for nine state senators. Walker’s opponents are currently gathering signatures to recall the governor himself, though polls suggest that effort will fall short.

Labor unions expect victory on Issue 2, as the Ohio measure is labeled on the referendum ballot, and the polls bear out their confidence. According to a Quinnipiac poll released at the end of October, just 33 percent of Ohioans support Senate Bill 5, while 56 percent oppose it. Even in non-union households, 52 percent said they opposed the anti-union measure.

“For Ohioans, it’s really an opportunity to support collective bargaining rights for every day heroes,” said Melissa Fazekas, spokesperson for We are Ohio, the group that led the petition drive. “We’re talking about police officers, firefighters, teachers, and nurses all across the state, and it’s really about having the backs of those people who have had ours.”

The unions “started off on the right foot,” said Peter Brown, Assistant Director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, by getting the petitions to repeal the bill signed early, which allowed the unions to define the terms of the battle.

“It became a battle about union rights. If it had become a battle about contributing to healthcare and retirement, the result might have been different,” said Brown, referring to other provisions in the bill. “But, it became about union rights.”

“The obituary on this thing was written early,” echoed Bob Kish, an Ohio-based Republican consultant. Supporters of the bill, he said, would have had a “hard slug uphill trying to redefine it.”

Fazekas said the idea that voters liked some parts of the bill was a “red herring.”

“We really talk about it in its entirety,” she said, “and the fact that it… basically does away with collective bargaining.”

“One of the big concerns about the bill is the fact that that it would make it illegal for police officers, fire fighters and nurses to physically come to the table and talk about staffing level,” Fazekas said. “So a firefighter would not be able to, during the collective bargaining process, say that it’s not safe for him to be on a truck with only two other firefighters.”

But supporters of the bill say that the problems union supporters are trying to prevent will actually come to pass as a result of the bill’s repeal.