Ohioans voted Tuesday night to repeal a Republican-backed law that restricted collective bargaining for public workers, a victory for Democrats and labor organizers both nationally and in the state.
AP has declared Issue 2 (as the law was called on the ballot) dead. As of this writing, with about 75 percent of precincts in, repeal led by a whopping 62 to 38 percent margin.
Gov. John Kasich (R) took office in January vowing to curb unions’ power. But he appears to have overstepped his hand in curtailing the rights of 350,000 public workers — including firefighters and police officers — to negotiate over benefits, equipment and other issues.
The backlash against the law began as soon as Kasich signed it, in March. By August, when the governor asked for a compromise with unions, it was too late.
“It’s clear that the people have spoken and my view is, when people speak in a campaign like this you have to listen,” Kasich said in a press conference after the results came in. He said he would “take a deep breath” and think about the results. “But let me be clear, there is no bailout coming” for the state, he said, adding that he would work with local governments to curb costs.
As in other states, the law became a battleground for an ongoing fight between labor and conservative groups over collective bargaining. In Wisconsin, after Gov. Scott Walker (R) eliminated collective bargaining for many public employees, Democrats and labor failed to take back the state Senate in recall elections. Now, unions have their first bonafide win.
By including firefighters and police officers in the legislation, Republicans in Ohio set themselves up for a far more difficult fight. Wisconsin’s collective bargaining law made exceptions for both.
“This was an effort by the entire labor movement in the state,” said Lee Saunders, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “All labor was together.”
Labor groups, led by the National Education Association and the Ohio Education Association, through the group “We Are Ohio,” poured $30 million into the repeal effort. Opponents of repeal, under the banner “Build A Better Ohio,” raised only $7.5 million.
“This was a thrashing in Ohio — a huge overreach by extremist Republicans and an enormous victory for average working families,” said Steve Rosenthal, a longtime Democratic labor strategist. “A sleeping giant may have been awoken in the process. In Ohio nearly 30 percent of the vote in 2012 will come from union households. There is enormous energy coming off this victory.”
Democrats also claimed victory, framing the results as a rebuke to Republican lawmakers across the country after the GOP swept statehouses across the country in 2010. Ohio Democrats were brutally beaten in that election.
In addition to limiting bargaining and banning strikes, the law mandates that public workers pay 15 percent of their health-care benefits and 10 percent of wages into their pensions — something that state, but not county and local workers already do.
Republicans argued that the legislation was not only fair, but necessary to balance the budget. Democrats and unions argued that it was a senseless attack on hardworking public servants.
A separate referendum to bar all health-care mandates, Issue 3, passed by a wide margin — 66 percent to 34 percent with 74 percent reporting.
The constitutional amendment is a rebuke of the Obama administration’s health-care legislation, although even supporters acknowledge that they cannot supersede federal law. It does prevent a Massachusetts-style state health-care mandate. Critics fear the broadly-written measure could bar immunizations or regulation of health insurers.