Ohio Poised to Limit Collective Bargaining. Will Such Moves Save Money?

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The Ohio House passed collective-bargaining legislation on Wednesday, and the bill heads back to the Senate for another vote. Gov. John Kasich promises to sign the bill into law.

It's a familiar scenario these days, this time in Ohio: The Republican-led legislature is moving forward a bill this week that would erode union strength. Democrats and labor advocates are up in arms, saying the bill is an attack on the middle class, while the Republican governor insists the measures would help address a massive budget deficit.

Indeed, the Midwest is becoming a battleground over the effectiveness - or not - of policy that targets the union representation of public-sector workers.

So far, in states where union-related bills are moving through the legislative process, tensions remain high and resolutions are not clear-cut. The high-profile battle in Wisconsin over collective- bargaining power is moving through the state's court system following an almost-two-month battle. Indiana legislators just ended a five-week standoff between the political parties that resulted in compromise versions of bills aimed at curbing union representation.

The Ohio House passed collective-bargaining legislation on Wednesday, and the bill heads back to the Senate for another vote. Gov. John Kasich (R) promises he will sign the bill into law next week, but already there is a referendum movement afoot.

"It's a totally open question" whether limiting collective bargaining will actually help states shore up budgets over the long term, says Eileen Norcross, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Arlington, Va.

Just because a state enacts measures that limit union power does not necessarily mean a cost savings, Ms. Norcross adds. Unions "have other tools available to them to achieve the same goal as collective bargaining," she says, such as lobbying for candidates who are sympathetic to their cause or pushing for referendums to change policy.

"It's not the collective bargaining; it's the political power of unions that has the effectiveness. That calls into question whether altering collective bargaining gets the policy reformers to where they imagine they want to go," she says.

Certainly, collective bargaining is at the forefront of many state budget agendas because of newfound political will. The November midterm elections resulted in a number of new Republican governors and turnovers in party majorities at the statehouse level, and the new officials believe that "they have the political capital" to make cuts according to how they see fit, says Leslie Scott, director of the National Association of State Personnel Executives in Lexington, Ky. …