Ohioans will vote tomorrow in a referendum on the fate of Senate Bill 5—a law that slashes the state’s public-sector workers’ collective bargaining rights. Polls show that Ohio voters will very likely reject the new law. That’s a prediction that shouldn’t be surprising: Americans consistently report that they support workers’ right to organize, and Ohioans are no exception.
S.B. 5 is an extreme attack on public-sector workers’ right to bargain collectively. It prohibits public employees, including teachers, police officers, and firefighters, from bargaining over many types of benefits, and even public safety concerns—such as appropriate staffing levels for police and firefighters. And it allows locally elected officials to unilaterally impose their side’s offer when labor and management cannot reach a deal—a provision prominent Republican opponent State Sen. Bill Seitz said was like “going to divorce court and finding out your wife’s father is the judge.”
Ohioans protested for weeks and successfully petitioned for a referendum on S.B. 5 after the state legislature passed the law by the slimmest of margins.
All signs now point to the law’s defeat. Opponents of S.B. 5 collected 900,000 signatures calling for the referendum even though only 231,000 were needed. The latest polling (here and here) shows voters support repeal by double-digit margins—including a Quinnipiac University Polling Institute poll finding 57 percent of Ohioans favor repeal and 32 percent oppose (a 25-point margin).
Some analysts claim that Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) and S.B. 5’s proponents guaranteed the bill’s failure by not carving out an exemption for emergency responders. And it’s true that Americans are uniquely reverent toward first responders. But it’s not just the popularity of firefighters and police officers that will cause voters to reject the law.
Americans—Ohioans included—believe that collective bargaining is a fundamental right for all workers. Wisconsin excluded police and firefighters from a similar law stripping public-sector workers of collective bargaining rights enacted this spring. Opposition to the Wisconsin law was just as intense as to S.B. 5, and nationwide more than 61 percent of Americans said that they would oppose such a bill in their state, according to the Gallup survey research group.
Americans understand that labor unions provide necessary protections for all workers. Most Americans (61 percent), according to the Pew Center for People and the Press, believe that “labor unions are necessary to protect the working person,” and 51 percent say that labor unions have a positive effect on “working conditions for all Americans.” A strong majority (68 percent) of Americans say that labor unions help unionized workers, according to Gallup.
Admittedly, unions are not immune from public critique. Only a slim plurality (44 percent) of Americans report that their first reaction is to side with unions in disagreements between unions and state and local governments—compared to 38 percent that side with government—according to Pew. And according to the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, 60 percent of Ohioans support changes to require the largely unionized public sector to pay a larger portion of their health benefits.
But Americans know it is unions’ ability to bargain that gives workers a voice in the workplace. Most Ohioans (56 percent) say that public employee unions should be able to bargain over their health insurance plans even though they support increased benefits payments, according to the Quinnipiac poll. And 55 percent of Americans believe that union agreements ensure fair treatment for union workers compared to only 34 percent who say that these agreements give union workers unfair advantages.
So if S.B. 5 is defeated tomorrow, Ohioans won’t just be rejecting the bill because it attacks emergency responders. Rather Ohioans—like the rest of the country—understand that the right to bargain is essential to the well-being of American workers.
Karla Walter is a Senior Policy Analyst with the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.