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Ohio Legislature approves anti-union bill

Labor stronghold Ohio assumed center stage Wednesday in the battle over collective bargaining rights for public workers as the State Legislature passed and sent to the governor a bill that was in some ways tougher than that seen in Wisconsin.

The measure was passed in the Republican-controlled State Senate on Wednesday evening after it earlier cleared the GOP-led House on a 53-44 vote.

Chants of 'Shame on you!' quickly broke out from onlookers in the House balcony after the vote there.

About 150 protesters then filtered into the Senate chamber, singing "We shall not be moved" and shouting "Power to the people!"

Unlike Wisconsin's measure, the Ohio legislation would extend union restrictions to police officers and firefighters.

But the overall response by protesters in the Rust Belt state, despite its long union tradition among steel and auto workers, has paled in comparison to Wisconsin, where protests topped more than 70,000 people. Ohio's largest Statehouse demonstrations on the measure drew about 8,500 people.

That difference has been attributed to Madison's labor legacy and the proximity of the populous University of Wisconsin campus to the state capital.

Standing in the Ohio Statehouse Rotunda after the House vote Wednesday, union steelworker Curt Yarger said he saw the bill as "a preliminary attack on working people."

"I shouldn't have any disillusion that I'll be next in the private sector," said Yarger, 43, of Mansfield.

Leo Geiger, a Republican who works as a sewer inspector for the city of Dayton and didn't attend protests because he couldn't take the time off, said he's "deathly afraid that this is going to affect me, my family and the entire state of Ohio in an incredibly negative way."

On Wednesday, an estimated 700 people went to the Ohio Statehouse to hear the debate.

The Ohio measure affects safety workers, teachers, nurses and a host of other government personnel. It allows unions to negotiate wages but not health care, sick time or pension benefits. It gets rid of automatic pay increases, and replaces them with merit raises or performance pay. Workers would also be banned from striking.

Republican Gov. John Kasich has said his $55.5 billion, two-year state budget counts on unspecified savings from lifting union protections to fill an $8 billion hole. The first-term governor and his GOP colleagues argue the bill would help city officials and superintendents better control their costs at a time when they too are feeling budget woes.

The Ohio bill has drawn thousands of demonstrators, prompted a visit from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and packed hearing rooms in the weeks before the Senate passed the earlier version of the measure. Its reception in the House had been quieter, even with the several hundred protesters on Wednesday.

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