Union-bashing, now in Ohio

April 6, 2011 - 0:0

This is Ohio’s new concept of how to deal fairly with its public employees: Make them an offer, and if they don’t accept it, impose it anyway. There will be no appeal or arbitration. And unions will no longer be able to negotiate their health-care benefits or require the payment of dues from members.

The bill containing these provisions was signed into law last week by Gov. John Kasich, another of the Republicans who has misinterpreted his election last year as a mandate to try to demolish union rights.
The best-known fight over public unions was in Wisconsin, where a law ending their collective-bargaining rights has been temporarily stopped by a court order. But, as Steven Greenhouse reported in The Times, the Ohio law is actually much tougher.
It cuts the negotiating rights of police officers and firefighters, not just non-uniformed employees, and it allows cities and school boards to simply impose their final bargaining offer on workers if they cannot reach a negotiated agreement. Under those circumstances, it is hard to imagine why any city would even bother negotiating, and that, in fact, seems to be the point.
With the efficiency of a bulldozer, similar bills are now being proposed or enacted in nearly a dozen states. In Oklahoma, a State Senate committee has approved a bill to remove the collective-bargaining rights for workers in the state’s 13 largest cities. In Florida, where collective bargaining is protected by the State Constitution, lawmakers are pushing through bills that would limit unions’ ability to collect dues and make political contributions.
In Maine, where Gov. Paul LePage was so contemptuous of labor that he ordered the removal of murals depicting workers from a state building, Republicans are even supporting a loosening of child labor restrictions, eliminating the maximum number of hours that minors can work on school days.
Supporters of these measures say they are acting out of concern for their state’s budget. There is little doubt that the real goal is to weaken unions and their ability to back Democratic candidates. The Associated Press reported that a Florida legislative analysis found the bills would have virtually no impact on state and local budgets. But it said they would be effective in one regard: making unions “likely to have more difficulty collecting dues and funds from employees for political purposes.”
The sponsors of these measures seem to think that with no reason to negotiate and no ability to raise funds, public-sector unions would simply fade away. As much as the unions may struggle with these new shackles, their members — and their motivation — are not going away.
There are already active recall petitions for Republican legislators in Wisconsin, and Ohio unionists are gearing up for a referendum to overturn their state’s new law. Democratic organizers are finding voters in middle-class districts aghast at the damage to economic rights caused by the new crop of Republicans. It may turn out that the best way to revive the ailing labor movement is by trying to chop it down