Union protests preface Ohio governor John Kasich's State of State speech

Demonstrators at the Capitol building in Madison are protesting Republican Gov. Scott Walker's legislation to cut public employees' benefits and eliminate most of their collective bargaining rights.

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By JULIE CARR SMYTH and ANN SANNER
The Associated Press
Monday, March 7, 2011; 4:35 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Outcry over collective bargaining proposals in Ohio threatened to overshadow Republican Gov. John Kasich's first State of the State speech as Democrats and union groups worked to mobilize thousands more protesters to the Statehouse.

The speech falls on Tuesday, the day a bill limiting negotiating rights for 350,000 police, firefighters, teachers and other public workers begins its trip through the Ohio House. The bill cleared the state Senate last week.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees set the stage for Tuesday's protests with a "State of the Worker" event Monday.

Tim Roberts, a corrections officer at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, Ohio, west of Columbus, said he's concerned about losing collective bargaining rights as Kasich prepares to make deep cuts to the state budget to address an estimated $8 billion budget gap.

"We live paycheck to paycheck," said Roberts, a father of four.

The AFL-CIO planned a protest at the Statehouse at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, just ahead of Kasich's noon speech. Some estimates for the event went as high as 25,000 people; demonstrations so far over the proposals have topped out around 8,500.

Under the bill, unionized public workers in Ohio could negotiate wages, hours and certain work conditions, but not health care or pension benefits. The measure would do away with automatic pay raises and base future wage increases on merit. It also would ban strikes by public workers and establish penalties for those who do participate in walkouts.

House Democratic Leader Armond Budish, of Beachwood near Cleveland, conceded Monday that his party has few weapons to use against the legislation. They control just 40 of 99 seats in the Ohio House.

"We'll do the only thing we can do," he said. "We'll fight like hell."

A coalition of tea party groups, led by the national group FreedomWorks, was mobilizing its own forces on Monday to show support for Kasich and GOP lawmakers who are cracking down on unions.

"A lot of the union agitation you see out there, this is the final confrontation about the unchecked power they've built up over the years," spokesman Adam Brandon said. "You see these union guys protesting, and now for the first time ever when the unions show up to do their business, you've got actual taxpayer groups, tea party groups ready to stand up for our rights, as well."

More than two dozen tea party groups around Ohio planned to deliver letters to their state lawmakers on Tuesday in favor of collective bargaining restrictions, he said. FreedomWorks also gave Kasich its Legislative Entrepreneur Award on Monday "for his dedication to restore economic competition in Ohio, rein in spending and shrink a bloated state budget."


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