Politics

Ohio voters reject Republican-backed union limits

Voters cast their ballots at the Wakeman Township fire station near Wakeman, Ohio Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011. Ohioans are deciding the winner of this year's drawn-out fight over a law limiting collective bargaining for 350,000 unionized public workers. The issue tops the Election Day list of ballot questions before the state's voters. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

AP

Voters cast their ballots at the Wakeman Township fire station near Wakeman, Ohio.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The state’s new collective bargaining law was defeated Tuesday after an expensive union-backed campaign that pitted firefighters, police officers and teachers against the Republican establishment.

In a political blow to GOP Gov. John Kasich, voters handily rejected the law, which limits the bargaining abilities of 350,000 unionized public workers.

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Labor and business interests poured more than $30 million into the nationally watched campaign, and turnout was high for an off-year election.

The law hadn’t taken effect yet. Tuesday’s result means the state’s current union rules will stand, at least until the GOP-controlled Legislature determines its next move. Republican House Speaker William Batchelder predicted last week that the more palatable elements of the collective bargaining bill — such as higher minimum contributions on worker health insurance and pensions — are likely to be revisited after the dust settles.

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Earlier this year, thousands of people swarmed the Statehouse in protest when the bill was being heard. The bill still allowed bargaining on wages, working conditions and some equipment but banned strikes, scrapped binding arbitration and dropped promotions based solely on seniority, among other provisions.

Kasich and fellow supporters promoted the law as a means for local governments to save money and keep workers. Their effort was supported by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business-Ohio, farmers and others.

We Are Ohio, the largely union-funded opponent coalition, painted the issue as a threat to public safety and middle-class workers, spending millions of dollars on TV ads filled with images of firefighters, police officers, teachers and nurses.

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Celebrities came out on both sides of the campaign, with former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and singer Pat Boone urging voters to retain the law and former astronaut and US Senator John Glenn and the Rev. Jesse Jackson urging them to scrap it.

Labor and business interests poured more than $30 million into the nationally watched campaign, with the law’s opponents far outspending and outnumbering its defenders.

Opponents reported raising $24 million as of mid-October, compared to about $8 million raised by the committee supporting the law, Building a Better Ohio.

Tuesday’s result in the closely divided swing state was expected to resonate from statehouses to the White House ahead of the 2012 presidential election.

Ohio’s bill went further than a similar one in Wisconsin by including police officers and firefighters, and it was considered by many observers to be a barometer of the national mood on the political conundrum of the day: What’s the appropriate size and role of government, and who should pay for it?

Kasich has vowed not to give up his fight for streamlining government despite the loss.

For opponents of the law, its defeat is anticipated to energize the labor movement, which largely supports Democrats, ahead of President Barack Obama’s re-election effort.

___

Associated Press writers Ann Sanner in Columbus and Lisa Cornwell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.

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