A bill to limit the collective bargaining power of some public-sector workers has sparked protests in Ohio this week.
Crowds gathered Thursday in the state's capitol, demonstrating against Senate Bill 5. It also would eliminate tenure as a consideration when deciding on layoffs, require workers to pay at least 20% of their health insurance premiums and institute merit-based pay for some public sector workers.
"The reality is, in the state of Ohio, we're out of money," said Republican Sen. Shannon Jones, who introduced the bill. "What we need to do is give management the flexibility to be able to continue to provide the high-quality services that they've come to expect."
Jones said that some Ohio districts spend more than 80 percent of their budgets on public sector personnel. "We have to find a better way to be able to negotiate wages," she insisted.
But the bill's opponents say it would undercut workers' rights and does not address core deficit issues.
"We had years of promises of tax cuts and regulation cuts that would stimulate our economy, and look at the mess created," said Rick Bensman, a teacher in Worthington.
Mark Sanders, president of the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters, said the bill would "end the process for negotiating fair contracts."
In addition, he said, "It'll eliminate our ability to negotiate safe working conditions."
The state is facing a budget deficit of $8 billion and an unemployment rate of 9.6%, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"It's not a knock on our public workers; it's a math problem," said Mike Wilson, president of the Cincinnati Tea Party. "If we raise taxes to balance our budget, it's going to drive more businesses out of the state."
Lawmakers are expected to continue debating the bill in coming days.
The bill is similar to one being debated in Wisconsin, where some legislators left the state capital to delay a vote on the proposal.