Rev. Jesse Jackson weighs in on Ohio union bill - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Rev. Jesse Jackson weighs in on Ohio union bill


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The fate of an Ohio bill that would abolish collective bargaining rights for state workers was unclear after a final day of testimony again drew thousands of protesters.

No vote has been scheduled on the proposal, which prompted a Tuesday evening visit to the Statehouse by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and threatened court action by Democrats over heightened security there.

Jackson, fresh off a visit to Wisconsin, where similar legislation has been drawing tens of thousands of pro-labor demonstrators, offered support to the Ohio protesters. His Ohio stay was to include visits to lawmakers and ministers and a news conference on Wednesday.

The Ohio bill's sponsor, Republican state Sen. Shannon Jones, has said she will weigh input given over several marathon days of hearings and make what changes can improve the bill's prospects for passage while remaining true to its intent to rein in union power in negotiations with cash-strapped governments.

Republican Gov. John Kasich backs the bill and defended it again Tuesday in an interview on CNN, signaling it would provide savings important to his upcoming two-year budget, due out March 15.

"On the issue of pay and perhaps some other items, I'm not opposed to people being able to talk," he said on CNN. "Let me just suggest to you that if we do not get a handle on pensions, if we do not get a handle on health care, a lot of these employees could ultimately be left high and dry, and I don't want to see that happen."

Thousands of pro-labor protesters chanted and waved placards Tuesday as they stood outside in freezing temperatures before eventually being allowed into the hearing site.

Democrats inside mustered their political and legal resources to fight what they called an undemocratic lockout, which Kasich's public safety agency said was a necessary precaution.

The Ohio Democratic Party had joined forces with unions and union-friendly groups across the state over the three-day Presidents Day weekend in hopes of mobilizing crowds of bill opponents.

The measure, pitched as part of Kasich's remedy for a multibillion-dollar budget gap, would undo Ohio's nearly 30-year-old collective bargaining law and imposes other limits on negotiations between police, firefighters, teachers and college and university staffs and their employers.

Opponents say there's no proof that getting rid of collective bargaining would save the state much money.

Jackson accused Kasich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker of using the economy as an excuse to "crush unions."

"This clearly is an ideological struggle now about which way will America go," he said.

After a stop in the hearing room, Jackson drew loud cheers as he passed through hundreds of people gathered in the Atrium listening to testimony over loudspeakers. He led the crowd in a chant.

Of an estimated 5,200 protesters who gathered Tuesday, about 1,000 were initially allowed to enter. They were restricted to two public halls -- the Atrium and Rotunda -- and the rest of the Statehouse was quiet and mostly empty. Democratic lawmakers tried to bring union supporters in as personal guests in groups of a few dozen at a time, but they were blocked.

"There's people outside in the snow that could be inside," said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Niles Democrat, as he stood in the loosely populated Atrium earlier Tuesday. "There's no reason why Ohio citizens who get on a bus at 4 or 5 in the morning to come to Columbus and protest an issue -- for or against -- should not be allowed in the Statehouse."

Ohio Department of Public Safety spokesman Joe Andrews said the number allowed in was determined by Ohio State Highway Patrol officials working on site. But no one could say why authority had been turned over to public safety officials. Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols deferred questions to Andrews.

A Statehouse occupancy permit that was reviewed by The Associated Press allowed for "5000-plus" to legally be on site within fire code. That number includes hearing rooms that accommodate about 3,200 people, permit figures showed.

Democrats threatened legal action at mid-afternoon, and doors were opened by 4 p.m., the scheduled start time of a hearing on the bill before a Senate committee.

Columbus attorney Don McTigue said his office had contacted the office of Attorney General Mike DeWine on behalf of labor organizations in an effort to gain access for as many protesters as possible, and Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern called on Kasich to instruct the Highway Patrol to allow more people in.

Retired Toledo school teacher Mary Ellen Bollenbacher, who taught first grade, said she waited for an hour and a half to be let into the building. She was with a friend who was scheduled to testify at the 4 p.m. hearing on the bill.

"When we got here, we couldn't understand why we weren't being let in," she said. "So when we were finally let in, I was happy -- happy to get in."

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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