March 29, 2011- An Ohio House committee on Tuesday passed a bill that would restrict collective bargaining rights for about 350,000 public employees and ban them from striking.
The bill was modified to remove jail time as a possible penalty for workers who participate in strikes and to allow police and firefighters to collectively bargain for safety equipment. The bill passed out of committee along party lines, with 9 Republicans voting for it and six Democrats against.
The bill is expected to go the House floor on Wednesday for a vote. The Ohio Senate narrowly passed a tougher version of the bill by a 17-16 margin earlier this month.
If enacted, Ohio would become the biggest U.S. state so far to impose sweeping collective bargaining curbs on public sector unions. The issue has spurred protests in Wisconsin and other states and may become a factor in the 2012 U.S. elections.
Republican Governor John Kasich says he's not concerned that the House version of the bill will be watered down. He said the bill will put taxpayers and public employees on a more equal footing regarding pay and benefits.
"This is really nothing more than an effort to re-balance the system and make sure that the people who pay the taxes are represented at the table," Kasich said.
The amended bill contains some new provisions that would prevent nonunion employees affected by contracts from paying fees to unions and would ban automatic deductions from employee paychecks. Democrats decry these measures in particular as proof that the bill is a politically motivated attack on unions dressed up as a budget measure.
Senate Democratic Leader Capri S. Cafaro said the changes "made a bad bill even worse."