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Ohio House Panel OKs Public Worker Union Bill

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A legislative committee in Ohio approved a measure Tuesday that would limit collective bargaining rights for 350,000 public workers and delivering a blow to unions in how they collect certain fees.

The Republican-controlled House Commerce and Labor Committee voted 9-6 along party lines to recommend the bill after making more than a dozen substantive changes to the legislation that was approved by the Senate.

The changes include removing jail time as a possible penalty for workers who participate in strikes and making clear that public safety workers could negotiate over equipment.

A vote on the bill in the GOP-controlled House could come Wednesday. The Senate, also led by Republicans, passed the bill earlier this month on a 17-16 vote and would have to agree to any House changes before Gov. John Kasich could sign it into law.

Similar limits to collective bargaining have cropped up in statehouses across the country, most notably in Wisconsin, where the governor earlier this month signed a measure into law eliminating most of state workers' collective bargaining rights.

The Ohio measure would apply to public workers across the state, such as police, firefighters, teachers and state employees. They could negotiate wages and certain work conditions but not health care, sick time or pension benefits. The measure would do away with automatic pay raises and would base future wage increases on merit.

Opponents have vowed a ballot repeal if the Ohio measure passes.

Democrats have offered no amendments. Instead, they delivered boxes containing more than 65,000 opponent signatures to the committee's chairman.

The legislation was met with demonstrations and packed hearing rooms in the weeks before the Senate passed the measure. On Tuesday, several hundred protesters listened to the committee's amendments over the loudspeakers positioned around the Statehouse before they headed outside to chants of "Kill the bill!"

Other changes the committee made would prevent nonunion employees affected by contracts from paying fees to union organizations and would ban automatic deductions from employee paychecks that would go the unions' political arm.

All GOP members on the House panel voted in favor of the changes, while Democrats voted against them.

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