Talking Points Memo: The Next Union Battlefield In Ohio: The Ballot Box

March 4, 2011- As the Ohio state House prepares to take up the controversial collective bargaining and union rights provisions contained in the just-passed state Senate Bill 5, union supporters and Democrats are looking ahead to a battle that will put the legislation in the hands of people they say are on their side: the voters of Ohio.

Though they plan to fight SB 5 tooth-and-nail as it works its way through the Republican-controlled House, leaders of the SB 5 opposition tell TPM that they don't expect to win there. There are 59 Republicans in the House and just 40 Democrats, meaning there's little chance for a repeat of the drama seen in the Senate, where SB 5 passed by just one vote.

But, thanks to the eccentricities of Ohio law, passage in the House doesn't mean SB 5 is guaranteed to go into effect. Though they more than likely can't stop it in the legislature, the opposition can potentially block its implementation by promising to take it on at the ballot box. That means the fight over SB 5 could extend for months — maybe even all the way to November, 2012.

Union leaders and Democrats have already begun shifting their focus to a referendum fight, which would require union supporters to gather hundreds of thousands of signatures in the days following an expected signing of SB 5 by Gov. John Kasich (R).

Once that's done, the law could be placed on hold (meaning it wouldn't go into effect at all) while Ohio waits to see what voters have to say about SB 5. And that's a fight the Democrats say they can win.

"If I weren't I'd be much less outspoken about this," State Democratic chair Chris Redfern told TPM. "We'd be looking for ways we could fight this legally…but in this case I think the referendum process or the Constitutional Amendment process will give us a great opportunity not just to overturn bad policy but to win the political fight as well."

A union leader on the ground in Ohio told TPM that his supporters will keep the pressure on SB 5 as it works its way through the House. A vote is expected next week. But as that fight rages, the leader said, union forces will begin gearing up for a signature drive to shut the bill down shortly after it reached Kasich's desk.


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