Bloomberg News

Ohio Ballot Victory for Unions May Not Mean End of Labor Fights

November 16, 2011

Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Ohio voters’ Nov. 8 repeal of a law limiting collective bargaining for public employees may not stop efforts across the U.S. to curb union power as states face fiscal struggles.

“Ohio is a big win for labor, and it will certainly diminish, though likely not end, attacks on unions,” Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at University of California-Berkeley, said in an e-mail.

U.S. states and cities face declining revenue after the longest recession since the 1930s, forcing some to seek tax increases or staffing reductions. Curbs on bargaining for government workers have been billed as a way to manage those costs. While union leaders say they will accept cuts to help balance budgets, state officials including Ohio Governor John Kasich say they need more ability to cope with rising costs.

Voters rejected the law enacted in March by Kasich, a first-term Republican, and his party’s lawmakers by 61 percent to 39 percent, after a campaign waged by a coalition of labor groups and Democrats called it overreach.

The outcome should alert other Republican governors and lawmakers that efforts to blame public employees for budget shortfalls will be met with a fight, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said yesterday.

At Their Peril

“We sent them to office to take care of the economy, to create jobs, not to do these partisan-type of bickering and scapegoating of workers,” Trumka said in a conference call with reporters. “The governors in the other states ought to take heed to this, and if they don’t, I think they do at their own peril.”

Ohio’s fiscal challenges aren’t going away, Kasich, 59, told reporters last night. The state won’t step in, he said.

“Let me be clear: there’s no bailout coming,” Kasich said, noting that Ohio addressed a budget deficit of as much as $8 billion this year without raising taxes. “There is no bailout because frankly, there’s no money.”

U.S. cities project that combined revenue will fall by 2.3 percent by year-end, the fifth-straight annual decline, the Washington-based National League of Cities said in a Sept. 27 report. Only 35 percent of counties passed balanced fiscal 2012 budgets with no anticipated shortfalls, according to survey released Oct. 20 by the Washington-based National Association of Counties.

Tough Win

The Ohio vote doesn’t represent the end of the movement to reduce union influence because of the effort the victory required, Gary Chaison, a labor professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, said in an interview.

Contributions to the campaign seeking to repeal the law were $30.6 million as of Oct. 25, according to the reports filed with Ohio secretary of state’s office. The group supporting the law brought in $7.6 million, and outside groups spent $2.45 million independently, records show.

The largest donor was the Ohio Education Association, a teachers’ union, with a combined $5.9 million in cash and in- kind gifts. The National Labor Table, a coalition of labor groups including the AFL-CIO and International Brotherhood of Teamsters, also gave $3 million toward repeal, the records show.

“It took up a huge amount of union energy and financial resources,” Chaison said. “A few more victories like this could bankrupt the labor movement, or at least distract them from supporting favored candidates.”

Return Appearance

The Ohio measure would have restricted bargaining by almost 360,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other government employees to wages, hours and working conditions and would have barred strikes. It required workers to cover at least 15 percent of their health-care insurance premiums and contribute 10 percent of their pay to a pension fund.

Republicans still control the Ohio Legislature, and William G. Batchelder, speaker of the House of Representatives, told reporters Nov. 3 that lawmakers may try to enact portions of the repealed law next year.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Oct. 25 showed that about 60 percent of Ohio voters supported requiring workers to pay minimum amounts for health-care coverage and pensions. Almost 50 percent want to base pay increases for public workers on merit instead of seniority, the poll found.

Uniform Appeal

Unlike a union-bargaining law pushed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker that exempted police and firefighters, the Ohio law included them. That might have made a difference, said Paul Beck, a political-science professor at Ohio State University.

We Are Ohio, the coalition of labor groups and Democrats opposed to the law, featured emergency workers in commercials saying they wouldn’t be able to maintain staffing to keep the public safe.

“Police and fire, I think, are the ones who probably in the public eye are the most deserving of some kind of special arrangements,” Beck said in a Nov. 3 telephone interview.

Senator Shannon Jones, sponsor of the law, said that police and fire unions were included because their members compose a large share of local government budgets.

“We chose not to bury our head in the sand,” Jones said in a Nov. 2 telephone interview. “The financial situation of the cities, townships, villages and school districts remains the same. Many of them are out of money.”

Charles Craver, a labor law professor at George Washington University in Washington, said the Ohio results may force governors to fight harder in contract negotiations.

Ultimately, though, the Ohio vote may be most significant because it emboldens labor unions, said Andy Stern, who was president of the Service Employees International Union until last year.

“This is a huge opportunity for unions to reposition themselves, and their challenge as well,” Stern said in an e- mail.

--Editors: Stephen Merelman, Mark Schoifet

To contact the reporters on this story: Mark Niquette in Columbus at; Holly Rosenkrantz in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at

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