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Ohio Governor Signs Bargaining Law. Is Referendum Next?

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has signed a bill into law that will curb many of the collective bargaining powers of teachers and other public employees.

But as is the case with Wisconsin's recently approved collective bargaining measure, Kasich's bill-signing isn't where this story ends.

Opponents of the measure are vowing to gather the thousands of signatures necessary to place an item on a statewide ballot in November to overturn the soon-to-be law. Backers of that effort include the Ohio state Democratic party, the Ohio Education Association, and the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

The measure, which cleared its final legislative hurdle with its approval by the Ohio state Senate this week, would reduce teachers' collective bargaining rights in numerous ways, and mandate other changes to teacher pay and job protections. It would forbid teachers' from bargaining to limit class sizes, school assignments, and various other working conditions; forbid districts from giving preference to teachers with more seniority in layoff decisions; and require that teachers be paid on the basis on performance, rather than a traditional set salary schedule, though it remains unclear how, exactly, their performance will be judged. The plan also mandates that state employees pay 15 percent of their health care costs, forbids districts from covering the state portion of employee pensions.

Those changes would come to districts as they're anticipating having to make deep cuts to their budgets, as a result of the governor's budget. That spending plan does not make up for the major loss of federal stimulus aid, and many district say they're planning to reduce jobs and programs.

Kasich argues that the changes to collective bargaining will lower district costs, making it easier for them to make do with less state money. It's a similar argument to one made by fellow Republican Gov. Scott Walker, of Wisconsin, in pushing a law to reduce bargaining rights in his state. Walker's plan is now being challenged in court.

Ohio's governor isn't bashful about touting what he sees as the measure's strengths. I received an e-mail from Kasich's campaign team today (I signed up a while ago) informing interested parties that the governor would sign the bill into law, and asking, "Will you support our ongoing efforts to fight for Ohio taxpayers with a $20, $10 or even $5 contribution today and help us continue to return the balance of power?"

"There is a reason that the union bosses opposed these changes," Kasich argues in the e-mail, "because it strips power from the union leaders and returns it to the taxpayers and workers. But make no mistake: We are fighting to save Ohio and need your help."

But his opponents, it seems, are fighting back.

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