By Marc Kovac
Gov. John Kasich and GOP legislative leaders have invited the state’s top union officials to a private meeting to discuss Senate Bill 5 and a potential compromise on the controversial collective-bargaining law.
It’s a last-ditch effort by the state’s top Republicans to convince We Are Ohio to pull Issue 2 from the November ballot and avoid a heated fall campaign that labor leaders are calling a referendum on Kasich.
“The eyes of the nation have been fixated on Washington in recent weeks, watching with frustration and sometimes fear as a downgrade of the federal government’s credit rating sent our economy into turmoil,” Kasich, Senate President Tom Niehaus and House Speaker Bill Batchelder wrote in the letter directed to “To The Government Employee Union Leaders of We Are Ohio.” It added later, “We have a fleeting moment in Ohio to take the higher road.”
“Maybe we’ll get somewhere, maybe we won’t,” Kasich told reporters Wednesday. “If we don’t get anywhere, see you in November.”
A spokeswoman for We Are Ohio, the group that secured more than 900,000 valid signatures on petitions to ensure the issue’s appearance on the ballot, was noncommittal when asked whether union officials would participate in the compromise discussions.
Instead, Melissa Fazekas said simply that lawmakers should repeal Senate Bill 5 if they want to avoid a vote in November.
The law would place limits on collective bargaining, changing the way more than 350,000 public workers have negotiated contract terms for nearly three decades. Among other provisions, it would prohibit strikes and enable state and local governments and schools to base employee pay decisions on performance, not seniority.
Proponents say the changes are needed to enable public offices to better control their costs.
Opponents call the new law a politically motivated attack by Republicans on unions that will result in reductions in the ranks of teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public servants.
We Are Ohio collected the signatures to place the law before voters in November, via a referendum process that allows citizens to accept or reject laws passed by the Legislature.
Senate Bill 5 will appear as Issue 2, with a “yes” meaning voters want the law enacted and a “no” meaning they want it repealed.
Both sides of the issue believe they will be successful in the general election.
“This is not an effort that’s being put forward because we fear we’re going to lose,” Kasich said of his compromise offer. “...We think we’re in a position where the public finds out more and more information [and] they’ll come our way.”
In surveys by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, a majority of registered voters have said the new law should be quashed, though comparable majorities support specific sections of Senate Bill 5 — requiring public employees to pay at least 15 percent of their health-insurance premiums, for example.
The letter sent by Kasich and Republicans calls on We Are Ohio to confirm by the end of the day today whether its members will participate in a meeting Friday morning near the Statehouse.
A compromise would have to be reached before the end of the month in order to have Issue 2 pulled from the ballot. Batchelder said there is time to call the Legislature back into session yet this month to act on any legislation that results from negotiations.