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8.5K protest bill at Statehouse

Joe Podelco / Photo editor

Facing the largest protest of this issue at the Ohio Statehouse, lawmakers unveiled a 99-page amendment Tuesday to Senate Bill 5 that will remove the right to strike for all public employees and replace binding arbitration with a system giving a legislative body authority to vote on public contracts.

At the Ohio Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee meeting at 1 p.m., Sen. Shannon Jones introduced the amendment to the bill she sponsored and defended it while an estimated 8,500 protesters denounced it.

“This bill gives power back to the taxpayer and restores flexibility to the management of their hard-earned dollars,” said Jones, a first-term republican.

Jones said the proposed amendment is a compromise that will grow the economy and create jobs.

Barb Summers, a 2nd grade teacher in Lancaster City Schools, said the bill could end up eliminating her job.

“For financial reasons, they could get rid of anybody,” she said of a provision to prohibit length of service from being the sole factor in lay-offs.

The committee is expected to vote Wednesday to move the bill onto the Senate floor, where a vote could take place later Wednesday or Thursday, and is likely to draw more protesters.

The crowd, which the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board estimated to be at least 8,500, started waving signs and chanting at about 10 a.m., and organizers expected the rally to last until about 6 p.m.

“The protestors in Wisconsin and here in Columbus are passionate. I recognize that change is difficult, but we must stand together,” said Gov. John Kasich in a press release Tuesday. “This issue is about our desire to give more power to taxpayers in our state. These reforms are just part of the comprehensive reform package we will be enacting to make Ohio prosperous once again.”

House minority leader Armond Budish, D-Beachwood, said the argument that public employees are overpaid is “false.”

“Cafeteria workers aren’t overpaid,” Budish said. “Neither are school bus drivers, teachers, fire fighters or police officers. This is definitely a political move.”

Budish said if the bill is voted out of committee and out of the Senate, then his fellow democrats in the house will do their best to keep it from passing.

“I think this bill will be seriously detrimental to middle-class Ohioans,” Budish said.

For the bill to pass in the Senate, 17 votes are needed. There are 23 republicans and 10 democrats in the Senate.

Mike McColgan, former member of Dropkick Murphys, an Celtic punk band, said labor unions’ main function is to collectively bargain, and eliminating or greatly restricting that right will weaken them. McColgan’s band, Street Dogs, performed at the rally.

“To try to get rid of unions, or to break them, by stripping them of their collective bargaining rights is just wrong,” McColgan said. “That’s why you see people all over the country standing up and saying ‘enough is enough, we’re not going to turn the other cheek anymore.'”

Other protesters saw the bill as republicans taking a political shot at unions, who historically support democratic candidates.

“It’s not about the deficit, it’s about weakening unions,” said Amanda Ripke, an Ohio State alum and member of the Communications Workers of America. “They’re pitting the public and private sector against each other when we should be working together.”

Floyd Dockery of UAW 1714 in Lordstown, said the bill boils down to “class warfare.”

“We’re just looking for a fair, livable wage to raise our families,” Dockery said.

Will Klatt is in OSU’s continuing education program, hoping to become a high school history and government teacher.

“This is just part of an agenda by republicans seeming to want to entirely dismantle what I care about,” Klatt said, citing, in addition to SB-5, the decreasing or eliminating federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Americorps, Planned Parenthood and higher education on the state and federal level.

Should the bill pass and become law, Klatt said he will not give up immediately.

“We’re going to force them to repeal it,” he said.

Some protesters were even trying to repeal legislators.

“Our constitution needs to be amended with a recall,” said David Westrich of Canton, who started his own website to spark a ballot initiative to amend Ohio’s constitution to allow voters to literally vote out representatives who they feel “didn’t listen to them.”

“What (Gov. John) Kasich’s doing, he’s not representing us,” Westrich said.

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