Union Fight Heating Up In Ohio

The battle over collective bargaining being fought in Wisconsin is far from over, but even as it rages a new fight is gathering steam in Ohio. For more than a week now, union supporters have gathered around the State Capitol in Columbus to protest Gov. John Kasich’s (R) plan to limit collective bargaining rights for more than 300,000 state workers.

On Tuesday, protests reached their largest and loudest yet, according to reports from the ground.

As in Wisconsin, Ohio’s new Republican governor isn’t backing down. And just as protestors remain in the streets of Madison, so too are they in Ohio.From the Columbus Dispatch:

The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board is estimating the crowd at 8,500. They don’t keep formal records of protest crowds, but anecdotally, spokesman Gregg Dodd said, there is consensus this is largest crowd of its kind in at least 15 years.

Union spokespeople from the SEIU and AFL-CIO claimed the crowd to be closer to 20,000.

Ohio’s bill is very similar to Wisconsin’s — except that it includes the police officers and firefighters the Wisconsin proposal exempts. One union worker who addressed the crowd today told TPM she’s not sure the protests will change many minds, but they’ve made it clear how Ohio’s organized workers feel about Kasich and his plan.

“I hope we can be heard inside the State House,” Joy Sunderman, a member of SEIU Local 1099 and a 32-year veteran of Cincinnati State Technical Community College, told TPM in a phone interview from the scene of today’s protests. “We’ve made a lot of noise.”

Sunderman calls the battle against Kasich’s proposal to limit collective bargaining rights “a fight for the middle class” and said that Kasich (who just took office in January) is trying to break the unions as a way to further his political ambitions.

“It just seems like he doesn’t care much about Ohio or reelection,” Sunderman said. “I don’t like the fact that he’s trying to make a name for himself in Washington on the backs of union workers.”

Kasich has defended his proposal, saying union negotiating power needs to be curbed to help close a state budget deficit. He told reporters last week that he’s “optimistic” about the passage of SB 5.

“There have been a lot of promises made to people that will never be kept. And I’m here to say, ‘look, let’s deal with reality here,'” Kasich said. “The whole business of collective bargaining reform is really designed to create a platform for job growth and entrepreneurship. Collective bargaining reform is just one tool in an overall process to fix Ohio.”

The Ohio Senate could vote on the bill as soon as Thursday.