Labor

2010 Elections Set the Stage for Wisconsin, Ohio Protests

| Fri Feb. 18, 2011 11:22 AM EST

As the political showdown between Republicans and labor unions in Wisconsin continues unabated, an anti-union bill in Ohio has also begun inflaming similar tensions. Thousands of protesters descended upon Columbus on Thursday to register their opposition to a Republican bill that would abolish or weaken collective bargaining rights for public-sector union members, ban public worker strikes, and weaken bargaining rights for police and firefighters prohibited from striking, according to the Lancaster Eagle Gazette. In addition, the Ohio paper adds, "Local unions' right to bargain for health insurance would be limited, automatic pay increases for public employees would be eliminated and teachers would lose their right to pick their classes or schools if the bill passes."

In one of the most prominent union strongholds in the country, the crowd—"estimated between 3,800 and 5,000"—was the biggest turnout that Columbus had seen for any legislation in a decade. As in Wisconsin, partisan tensions are exceedingly high in wake of the 2010 election results. In both states, the governorship and the statehouse flipped from Democratic to Republican control last year in highly contested races with heavy union involvement. In Ohio, the ousted former governor, Democrat Ted Strickland, even showed up at the Capitol to display solidarity with the thousands of protesting union members. "This has little to do with balancing this year's budget," he told the AP. "I think it's a power grab. It's an attempt to diminish the rights of working people. I think it's an assault of the middle class of this state and it's so unfair and out of balance."

Battles are also heating up in union-heavy states like Michigan, where newly empowered Republicans are pushing similar bills to strip power from unions. It's not surprising that Republicans have set their sights on public-sector unions, which they accuse of using outsized political clout to win cushy benefits. In recent years, teachers' unions have attracted particular animus from both sides of the aisle for receiving undue protections. But some protest-watchers have criticized Republicans like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for using their newly won political power to overreach. Writes one professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison: as a "newly-elected GOP governor of Wisconsin with GOP control of both houses, it is understandable that he didn't think he had to ask for permission. But this was way, way over the top, both in terms of procedure and substance."