Ohio governor asks for compromise on anti-worker legislation

At a press conference on Wednesday, Ohio Governor John Kasich invited union leaders to talk with him about a compromise on SB 5, legislation passed last spring that limits the collective bargaining rights for Ohio’s 350,000 public sector workers.

Gov. Kasich made his remarks after We Are Ohio, a citizen-driven, community-based, bipartisan coalition that has come together to repeal SB 5, gathered 1.3 million signatures on a petition to repeal SB 5. As a result of the petition drive, a referendum will be held in November giving voters a chance to veto SB 5.

We Are Ohio on the day after Gov. Kasich’s press conference urged the governor to convene the Legislature, so that it could vote to repeal SB 5; once SB 5 is repealed, talks on a compromise could begin, it said. “While we thank the Governor, Senate President and Speaker of the House for reaching out and recognizing that (SB 5) is flawed, we are asking for a fresh start,” said Melissa Fazekas, spokeswoman for We Are Ohio.

“That fresh start must begin with a full repeal of Senate Bill 5. A complete repeal of Senate Bill 5 would go a long way toward creating an environment for compromise, restoring trust in government by the electorate and setting the table for meaningful negotiations about creating jobs, rebuilding Ohio’s economy and moving the state forward.

“Due to the complexity of the bill and our responsibility to the 1.3 million Ohioans who want to repeal it, We Are Ohio strongly believe a full repeal of Senate Bill 5 must occur prior to any meeting. Upon repeal of Senate Bill 5, we look forward to coming together as Ohioans to make our state a better place to live,work and raise a family, just like our public employees – firefighters, nurses, teachers and police officers — do every day in their jobs.”

A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that Ohio voters favor repealing SB 5 by more than 20 percent; however, at the press conference, Gov. Kasich said that his offer to talk about a compromise wasn’t motivated by the possibility that voters would reject SB 5. A compromise, said Kasich, was in the best interest of everyone to avoid a fight over the measure.

SB 5 is a broad measure that changes the way state workers, local government workers, and public school teachers and their employers establish wages, benefits, and working conditions. Among other things SB 5 prohibits public sector workers and their employers from bargaining over health care, pensions, and sick days. It eliminates automatic pay raises and replaces them with so-called merit raises. It ends the practice of collecting fees from non-union employees for services provided them by unions. It also bans strikes.

While SB 5 takes aim at public sector workers’ bargaining rights, the poll numbers and the response to We Are Ohio’s petition drive suggests that many private sector workers believe that limiting the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers would weaken the union movement, which in turn would lower the living standards for all workers.

The We Are Ohio petition drive was an impressive show of strength. The organization mobilized more than 10,000 volunteers to gather the 1.3 million petition signatures and in July announced that it raised $7 million in cash and in-kind donations, nearly 80 percent of which came from people who contributed $100 or less.

After its successful petition drive, We Are Ohio kept its volunteer army in place and continues to mobilize thousands of people. In the last two weeks of August alone, it has scheduled more than 100 events such as phone banking and one-on-one canvassing to build support for defeating SB 5 in November.

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