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Originally published March 30, 2011 at 10:13 PM | Page modified March 30, 2011 at 10:13 PM

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Ohio Legislature approves collective-bargaining limits

The Ohio Legislature voted Wednesday to severely limit collective-bargaining rights of 350,000 public workers, sending a bill that sparked weeks of pro-labor protests to Republican Gov. John Kasich, who is expected to sign it by the end of the week.

The Ohio Legislature voted Wednesday to severely limit collective-bargaining rights of 350,000 public workers, sending a bill that sparked weeks of pro-labor protests to Republican Gov. John Kasich, who is expected to sign it by the end of the week.

The full House passed the measure by a 53-44 margin, and the Senate followed with a 17-16 vote of approval.

The push is part of an effort by Republicans in a dozen states to curb the power of public-sector unions by weakening their ability to bargain and engage in electoral politics. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a similar bill into law this month. That measure exempts police officers and firefighters; Ohio's does not.

The Ohio bill would allow unions to negotiate wages but not health care, sick time or pension benefits. Automatic pay increases would be replaced with merit raises or performance pay. Workers also would be banned from striking.

Under the bill, when there is public-sector bargaining and management and union fail to reach a settlement, the legislative body, such as a county or school board, would make the final decision on which offer to accept. If the legislative body were to refrain from selecting either side's last best offer, the public employer's last offer would become binding.

James Brudney, a Ohio State University labor-law professor, said the bill effectively cripples collective bargaining.

"There's a kind of mask or illusion element in this," Brudney said. "The essence of collective bargaining is when you can't agree on terms of a contract, you have a dispute-resolution mechanism, by strikes or perhaps binding arbitration. Here, you have none of that. That's not collective bargaining. I'd call it collective begging. It's a conversation that ends whenever an employer decides that it ends."

Kasich has said his $55.5 billion, two-year budget counts on unspecified savings from lifting union protections to fill an $8 billion hole. The first-term governor and his GOP colleagues argue the bill would help cities and superintendents better control costs.

Senate President Tom Niehaus threatened to clear the chamber ahead of final legislative action on the measure as pro-labor protesters shouted insults at senators and threatened to unseat them in the next election.

Still, the overall response by protesters in Ohio, despite its long union tradition among steel and autoworkers, paled in comparison to Wisconsin, where protests peaked at more than 70,000 people. Ohio's largest Statehouse demonstrations drew about 8,500 people.

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