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John Kasich & Scott Walker on Ohio's Uphill Battle Against Govt. Unions

Six reasons why collective bargaining reform will likely fail in the Buckeye state.

1:21 PM, Nov 6, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Although the polls show Ohio's collective bargaining reform headed for repeal in a referendum Tuesday, Governor John Kasich has no regrets he signed the legislation last March. “Everybody’s got to face this sooner or later,” Kasich told THE WEEKLY STANDARD in a phone interview. "This is part of an overall plan to get reform from top to bottom. It’s extremely difficult. No one has tried this level of reform, that I’m aware of in the country, including Wisconsin."

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"People will learn from this," Kasich says. "And we’ll see what happens on Tuesday."

If an October 25 Quinnpiac poll is anywhere close to being accurate, the law will be struck down on Tuesday. “It’s going to lose because this is a very large complex piece of legislation," says Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown. "It has two major components. One component requires public employees to contribute [at least 10 percent of their wages for their pensions and 15 percent of health insurance premiums]. And that is popular. But the other part of the law—the part that the debate has most focused on—is about limitations on the ability of public employees to collectively bargain and certain other union rules." 

The Quinnipiac poll showed voters opposed the law—which was never implemented—by a 57 percent to 32 percent margin. But dig a little deeper and what the poll really shows is that voters don't seem to understand what "collective bargaining" means. Fully 60 percent of Ohio voters support "requiring public employees to pay at least 15 percent of their health insurance premiums," but 56 percent of Ohioans oppose "limiting collective bargaining for public employees."

Here's the problem with that: In order to require public employees to pay more for their health insurance and pensions (which is popular), collective bargaining must be limited (which is unpopular).

For whatever reason, it has proven difficult in states like Wisconsin and Ohio to convey the message that limiting collective bargaining is necessary to help local governments manage their budgets. Perhaps when voters hear "collective bargaining" they simply think it's the ability of workers to petition management for better pay and benefits. What collective bargaining really means is that a union effectively has power to veto changes to union members' benefits--forcing local officials to choose between laying off public workers or raising taxes.

And yet, while a similar level of opposition to limiting "collective bargaining rights" existed in Wisconsin, the reform has succeeded, so far, in the Badger state. Why are the Ohio reformers much worse off? There are at least six significant differences between the two states.

(1) As Kasich emphasizes, Ohio's law is more comprehensive. It would affect police officers and firefighters, while Wisconsin's reform exempted those groups. The Ohio law "places our police and our communities at risk," according to one pro-union ad. In another ad, a paramedic says the law will cause "slower response times" during emergencies.

(2) Wisconsin Republicans were unified behind collective bargaining reform. Only one state senator voted against Walker's reform, but six state senators abandoned Kasich. That helped unions make the case that opposition to the bill was bipartisan.

(3) The Wisconsin law had been in effect for months--yielding positive results--by the time state senators faced recall elections in August, while the Ohio law was blocked once unions obtained enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot.  

According to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, this is “the number one reason why they’re having trouble with their referendum" in Ohio. Prior to the Wisconsin recall elections, districts were able to balance their budgets pretty painlessly, while unions refused changes to their benefits in some districts where collective bargaining remained, forcing hundreds of teacher layoffs.

"The mayor of Milwaukee, who ran against me for governor, had said in March this is going to kill us, it’s going to be devastating, it’s going to be awful for our budget," Walker said. “Well, the day before the recall election, August 8, they had to acknowledge [a new report showing] their net savings for the city of Milwaukee came in the range between 11 and 17 million dollars per year.”

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