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The Nation

March 30, 2011

Ohio House to vote on collective bargaining limits

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A bill that would limit collective bargaining rights for 350,000 Ohio public workers neared passage before the Republican-controlled House on Wednesday, one of its final hurdles before the measure goes to the governor of this labor-stronghold state.

The legislation is in some ways tougher than Wisconsin's, as it would extend union restrictions to police officers and firefighters. But its reception in Ohio has paled in intensity with the raucous fight in Wisconsin, where tens of thousands demonstrated against the bill.

On Wednesday, an estimated 700 people came to the Ohio Statehouse to hear the debate. Chants from demonstrators inside the statehouse could be heard in the chamber.

Among those who lined up to get into the House chamber was Dayton firefighter Jeff Jones, who said he came because he wanted to protect his pension and show his opposition for the bill.

"It would open the door for any government agency to basically do what they want to," said Jones, 43.

Contentious debates over restricting collective bargaining have popped up in statehouses across the country, most notably in Wisconsin, where the governor signed into law this month a bill eliminating most of state workers' collective bargaining rights.

Wisconsin's measure exempts police officers and firefighters.

The Ohio bill would apply to workers such as police officers, firefighters, teachers and state employees. They could negotiate wages and certain work conditions but not health care, sick time or pension benefits. The bill would do away with automatic pay raises and would base future wage increases on merit. Workers would also be banned from striking.

Debate in Ohio began with boos, shouts and laughter from protesters in the House chamber who oppose the legislation, prompting the House speaker to slam his gavel to bring order.

Onlookers in the gallery balked as state Rep. Joseph Uecker said the bill would help city officials save taxpayers money and help the middle class.

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