Thousands of demonstrators converged on the state Capitol in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday as the state legislature began hearings on a bill that targets public sector unions.
The bill would strip about 350,000 public employees of most collective bargaining rights. It would also prohibit state and local public employees from striking.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill this week, possibly as soon as Wednesday.
Republican lawmakers in Ohio said limiting public employees union rights was necessary to help reduce the state’s two-year budget deficit of nearly $8 billion.
“We have an $8 billion budget deficit and we have a massive reform plan, that also includes the ability to control our costs as it relates to public employees versus, at times, the taxpayers,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly last week. “I also want to give the flexibility to mayors, to school districts, to be able to control their costs, because there is going to be fewer dollars flowing from the state to those folks and those entities.”
“This is not about diminishing, or attacking, or being against unions,” Kasich said. “The unions are still going to be able to represent the public employees. All we are doing is creating a balance.”
Protests that began in Wisconsin three weeks ago have sparked workers’ rights rallies across the United States. Millions of Americans were out in the streets this past Saturday, participating in the largest flare-up of labor protests the nation has seen in decades.
Like Wisconsin, Ohio has a recently-elected Republican governor and a Republican-led legislature.
“We know this is not a state-by-state fight,” Mikey Sgro, a director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, told NBC4. “This is a national fight and we know if they are not successful in Ohio and in Wisconsin, then it’s coming to Pennsylvania [and] New Jersey. So we are here to show support of workers of Ohio.”