John Kasich isn’t a moderate: Collective bargaining

This may not be a mark against a candidate in a Republican primary, but then again, none of the other posts in this series have been, either. That’s sort of the point.

John Kasich hates unions. A lot.

Ohio’s rate of unionization is only slightly higher than the national average, but the state has long been held as being the buckle of the Rust Belt. Union workers are central to Ohio’s identity, and Ohio is one of the few states left where they wield a significant amount of political power.

kasich horse

John Kasich, marauding against the unions

That political power was put to the test by John Kasich almost immediately after he took office. Citing the economic downturn and revenue shortfalls, and coming off of sweeping victories in the 2010 elections, Republicans in the state had argued that massively curtailing collective bargaining rights was the only way to ensure that Ohio could balance its budget. Unions, Democrats and others throughout the state (correctly) argued that these budgetary concerns were little more than a thinly-veiled excuse to do what conservatives in the state had wanted to do for decades: gut unions.

Their concerns didn’t matter — at least not at first. In March of 2011, only a few months after being elected governor, Kasich signed Senate Bill 5 into law. SB 5 prohibited public sector unions from negotiating wages, eliminated automatic pay increases and banned strikes. It also made it more difficult for public sector unions to collect membership dues. No one from the affected unions was asked for input on the bill, which only passed by one vote in the State Senate over massive protests at the Ohio State House.

Unlike a similar bill in Wisconsin that was passed and subsequently blocked by a judge around the same time, SB 5 did not exempt police officers and firefighters, who were prohibited from negotiating with cities over necessary manpower, potentially leaving critical services critically understaffed.

I can’t imagine why Kasich would be excited to stick it to police unions:

SB 5’s passage triggered an immediate organizing effort to put it on the November ballot for possible repeal. 1.3 million people signed the petition to put the bill up for a referendum (only slightly more than 230,000 signatures were necessary), and the campaign against the bill saw roughly the same level of enthusiasm as the governors’ race that had been held a year earlier. In fact, when all was said and done, voter turnout in 2011 (an off-year election) was only two percentage points lower than it was in 2010, a year in which Ohioans were voting for a new governor and senator.

The bill was defeated by a 61-39 margin, with even a large subset of Republicans in the state agreeing that Kasich’s union busting efforts had gone too far.

In the wake of the bill’s defeat, Kasich shrugged his shoulders and said that, while he was willing to tolerate the voters’ decision, that didn’t mean he accepted it. Warning of a coming fiscal crisis brought on by out of control public spending on unionized workers — those pesky teachers, nurses, police officers and firefighters — Kasich warned that “There is no bailout coming.”

His prediction that public sector unions would bankrupt the state never panned out.

In a Republican primary, a record of trying to steamroll unions is a badge of honor — proof of conservative bona fides. But John Kasich’s pitch to New Hampshire voters is that he isn’t a fighter; he’s a uniter. He is traveling across the state this weekend pleading with voters that, if elected, he will work with Democrats to pass compromise legislation based on conservative principles. To hear him tell it, he’s the reasonable alternative to Donald Trump, who will screw over anyone standing in his way to get what he wants.

Which is exactly what Kasich tried to do to unions as governor.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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