Group cleared to continue fight of Ohio union law

AP News
Posted: Apr 15, 2011 3:59 PM
Group cleared to continue fight of Ohio union law

Opponents of Ohio's new collective bargaining law won approval Friday to move forward with their effort to get a referendum on the ballot this November, and they say they have 10,000 volunteers ready to gather signatures.

The state's attorney general and secretary of state certified that the group called We Are Ohio can start collecting the more than 231,000 valid signatures needed by June 30 to get the measure before voters.

The law signed by Gov. John Kasich last month affects more than 350,000 public workers, including police officers, teachers and state employees. It allows unions to negotiate wages but not health care, sick time or pension benefits. It bans strikes and gets rid of automatic pay increases, replacing them with merit raises or performance pay.

Kasich, a first-term Republican, has said his $55.5 billion, two-year state budget proposal counts on unspecified savings from lifting union protections to help fill an $8 billion hole. He argues it will give local governments and school districts the ability to rein in spending and tackle their own budget problems.

Opponents, including the We Are Ohio group, contend the new law is an unfair attack on workers.

Dennis Willard, a spokesman for We Are Ohio, said thousands of volunteers would begin to circulate petitions in the next few days to help bring the referendum. "People are asking us not where do I sign, but how do I circulate," he said.

Ohio's constitution required the group to first submit 1,000 valid signatures to the secretary of state's office for certification. The attorney general also had to certify the accuracy of its petition summary before petitioners could start gathering signatures.

We Are Ohio bills itself as a bipartisan, grass-roots group that consists of labor organizations such as the Ohio Education Association and the Fraternal Order of Police among others.

The coalition plans to start raising money online and anticipates spending its donations on advertisements in the state's major media markets.

Willard said it's too soon to say how much the effort could cost the group, but he expected it could be in the millions of dollars.

"We want to make sure that the people have a chance to veto this legislation," he said. "This is going to be an all-out campaign."