March 18, 2011- Ohio Governor John Kasich delivered his “State of the State” speech March 8 with all the pomp expected of a new governor setting his agenda.
But 3,000 union members and allies—led by 2,000 firefighters along with teachers, state workers, electrical workers, steelworkers, and many others—had just finished rallying outside the Columbus statehouse damning Senate Bill 5, the governor’s proposal to gut public employee unions.
And now hundreds of protesters packed the hearing gallery, with many more outside, filling the air with boos and “Kill the Bill” chants while the governor spun down-home tales, like one about a young girl who walked up to him during his campaign to say, “Mister, please don’t tax my eggs.”
Seth Rosen, vice president of Communications Workers District 4, said Ohio politics are usually mild. Booing the governor isn’t typical.
The governor and the legislature’s Republican majority certainly don’t have moderation in mind. After a little reworking, the senate passed a bill in early March that ends collective bargaining for most state workers, by a 17-16 vote. The assembly was still considering it at press time.
At the governor’s request, it outlaws public employee strikes and allows public employers—including cities and school districts—to eliminate, modify, or renegotiate contracts during a fiscal emergency. The state’s $8 billion deficit arguably constitutes an emergency now.
SB 5 allows most state employees—as well as school and local government workers—to bargain wages. But it forbids talks on pensions and health benefits and a score of other topics. Salary step schedules would be replaced with “pay for performance.”