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Ohio Labor Supporters Plan Big Statehouse Rally Today

by Joe Hallett and Jim Siegel

Ohio's capital could resemble its Wisconsin counterpart today.

Protesters projected to number anywhere from 4,000 to 20,000 are expected to swarm Capitol Square to rally against a bill that would eliminate collective bargaining for state employees and weaken the ability of local workers to bargain for their pay, benefits and working conditions. (Cleveland Leader) Protesters projected to number anywhere from 4,000 to 20,000 are expected to swarm Capitol Square to rally against a bill that would eliminate collective bargaining for state employees and weaken the ability of local workers to bargain for their pay, benefits and working conditions.

Organizers couldn't pin down a more precise estimate of how many protesters will converge on the Statehouse at the 1 p.m. appointed time - especially with bad weather forecast - but they were hoping for a turnout to rival the massive crowds that have gathered at the Statehouse in Madison over the past week to protest a similar anti-union bill backed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

"We're hoping to have a huge showing," said Andy Richards, spokesman for the Ohio AFL-CIO. "What's happening in Wisconsin has just picked up and moved across the country."

On Thursday, close to 4,000 filled the Statehouse with chants and cheers while a Senate committee held an all-day hearing on Senate Bill 5. Another hearing on the bill will be held at 4 p.m. today, with about 15 witnesses, mostly opponents, scheduled to testify, said Sen. Kevin Bacon, R-Minerva Park, the committee chairman.

Bacon said there will not be a vote or amendments offered on the bill during the hearing.

Private and public-sector union heads, leaders of liberal activist groups, and Democratic leaders such as former Gov. Ted Strickland urged demonstrators to flock to the Statehouse.

"If ever there was a time to show up, stand up and let our voices be heard, it is now," Strickland wrote in a Saturday e-mail to Democratic supporters. "The fate of Ohio's middle class is on the line at the Ohio Statehouse."

Buses were being arranged to transport people to Columbus - presumably, mostly public and private-sector union members and retirees - from union halls and Democratic Party headquarters across the state. The Ohio Education Association sent an e-mail to its members to meet at the association's Downtown headquarters at noon to pick up materials and signs.

On Wednesday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil-rights activist, will join the protest against Senate Bill 5 by headlining a rally in support of union workers at 11 a.m. at the Teamsters building, 555 E. Rich St.

Richards said opponents of Senate Bill 5 are not exclusively union members: "This isn't just public-service workers. It's students, community leaders, faith leaders, your neighbors and others who are concerned about this bill and the general anti-worker agenda of Kasich and his allies."

Gov. John Kasich supports Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, which would end collective bargaining for state workers and instead set up a merit-based pay system.

Police and firefighters, who cannot strike, would lose binding arbitration, and the bill would weaken local bargaining for teachers and others in a number of areas, including removing step increases and sick days from state law and no longer allowing them to bargain for health insurance. Teachers could still strike, but school officials could hire permanent replacements.

"I think we have a good bill on the table," Bacon said. "I think we will get something out of committee and out of the Senate."

But Bacon said talks are continuing with Jones and others, including the governor's office and the Department of Administrative Services, which would develop the new merit-based system.

"We have had various individuals coming in with ideas, either trying to get out of (the bill) or make it softer," he said.

Bacon said he is not sure whether the bill will just see some tweaks or undergo major changes. Asked about the elimination of binding arbitration, which even some GOP senators have said goes too far, Bacon said it's a tough call, because those who want the bill to pass see that as one of the key elements.

"We are getting past that first stage, and we need to make some decisions on the bill," he said. "I think we will have vetted it pretty thoroughly after (today)."

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