Ohio’s voters face a critical election tomorrow, a precursor in the battle ground state to next year’s Presidential election. President Obama cannot win reelection unless he carries both Michigan and Ohio. Conversely, Republicans do not win the White House unless they carry Ohio.
Tomorrow’s election though is not for an individual, such as Governor, Senator, Attorney General, Congressman, or to the state legislature. It may be viewed indirectly as a referendum on Republican Governor Kasich, but it may also be a referendum on the future of public employee unions in Ohio and he nation.
The 2010 midterm elections swept Republicans into office in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The newly elected Republicans stuck it to the public employee unions in the name of fiscal reform. The goal was also to cripple these unions and their financial lifelines for Democratic candidates.
Wisconsin’s anti-union efforts to cripple the public employee unions received the most national attention. The unions unsuccessfully poured millions of dollars in initially fighting the legislation, in a contested state Supreme Court election, and then in recall elections against Republican legislators. Their supporters also occupied the state capitol.
Amidst the Wisconsin furor, the Ohio Republicans quietly enacted S.B. 5, an even more restrictive limitation on public sector unions in the state than Wisconsin’s.
S.B. 5 requires public employees to pay 15% of their health insurance and 10% of their salaries to their pensions, hardly out of line with the private workplace.
The main feature bars binding mediation for health coverage, pensions, and staffing levels. The real kicker though is that in cases of bargaining impasses between unions and city councils and school boards, the cities and school boards can unilaterally impose their last offer on the employees.
The effect is to essentially repeal public sector collective bargaining in Ohio.
The unions have spent $30 million in the repeal campaign, established phone banks, and mounted a door to door get out the vote effort.
Polls show the recall effort succeeding. If so, it will be a major victory for the unions. If they fail though, they will witness an increase in anti-union legislation across the nation and a major hit on their financial base.
The unions are emphasizing the threat to public safety through S. B. 5. The Wisconsin legislation exempted first responders from its coverage, but S.B. 5 includes police and fire in its ambit.
Even if the unions win, their victory may be Pyrrhic. The resulting cost constraints on state and local government will result in increased layoffs in the public sector.