(Reuters) – An Ohio senate labor committee is expected to vote on Wednesday on a bill that would curtail the collective bargaining powers of public sector workers and eliminate their right to strike.
More than 8,000 protesters converged on Ohio’s state capital on Tuesday to demonstrate against the proposed legislation, which would affect hundreds of thousands of workers, including public school teachers, firefighters and police.
Republican supporters of the Ohio proposal said the limits to public workers’ ability to bargain are necessary to give local governments flexibility and help reduce the state’s two-year budget deficit of about $8 billion.
Labor unions and Democrats have protested that the bill goes too far in sacrificing public workers’ rights.
“This isn’t about deficits. This is about union-busting,” said Evan Goodenow, 46, of Bellevue, Ohio, a protester at Tuesday’s rally.
If the bill is approved by the committee Wednesday, it could be voted on by the full senate the same day or later this week and then move to the house. Republicans have the majority in both the senate and the house. The newly-elected governor is Republican John Kasich.
About 100 pages of amendments were introduced to the nearly 500-page bill Tuesday. The original bill eliminated collective bargaining for 42,000 state workers, plus 19,500 workers in the state’s university and college system, and removed health care and some other benefits from the negotiating process for teachers, firefighters and police.
The amendments would restore collective bargaining rights for wages, but take away the right to strike for all public workers.
Democrats protested that they needed more time to review the amendments, so the hearing was adjourned until Wednesday morning. The full senate may vote on the bill this week.
The controversy over the collective bargaining bill in Ohio, which limits rights established in 1983 for the state’s public-sector workers, is similar to a fight that has roiled Wisconsin for the last three weeks.
Republicans there also have majorities in the legislature and the governorship. Wisconsin’s bill exempted firefighters and police.
Democratic senators in Wisconsin have left the state to prevent Republicans from having a quorum, thus delaying a vote on the bill limiting public worker collective bargaining rights. Democrats in the Indiana house of representatives also have left their state to delay a vote on bills they say hurt workers’ rights.
But Ohio only requires a simple majority to vote on bills, so it would do the Ohio Democrats no good to leave.