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Union president, governor make pitches in Ohio

By Thomas J. Sheeran
Associated Press / November 8, 2011

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CLEVELAND—AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka led organized labor's final push Monday in a fierce election battle over a new Ohio law limiting public employee unions, while Gov. John Kasich told supporters the restrictions would mean new jobs for the state.

The issue on Tuesday's Ohio ballot asks whether to keep the law limiting the collective bargaining rights of more than 350,000 public workers.

Trumka spoke at a union hall in Cleveland before heading out to knock on doors to talk to voters. He told cheering blue-collar workers that if labor loses its fight over collective bargaining rights for public employees, rights of other union workers will be in jeopardy.

"Because if they can take collective bargaining away from one segment of our economy, they can take it away from the next segment and the next," he said. "That's not going to happen, because collective bargaining is the ladder to the middle class. It's how we built the middle class."

Kasich, a Republican who signed the bill into law, led an election-eve rally of about 300 people in Clermont County in the Cincinnati area in support of Issue 2.

Kasich used an example of a single woman raising children and said it's "not fair" for a woman without guaranteed health care and pension benefits to pay for someone else's.

He said the state needs the law to bring in jobs and that local governments in Ohio have raised taxes 42 percent over the past decade.

"We can't have local governments dragging us down and making it more difficult to bring those jobs in here," he said.

"And I tell you this, the rest of the country, these other states, they watch us, they learn from us."

Kasich also sent a final-day Twitter post to followers on Monday citing five reasons to vote yes. Among elements he cited were a requirement that public workers pay 15 percent toward their health care; a prohibition against tying raises solely to seniority; and the fact it makes it "harder for bad teachers to hide behind the protections of a union contract."

The ballot issue was attracting big names on both sides in the final days. That included an endorsement from former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and robocalls favoring a yes vote by singer Pat Boone, as well as boosts to the opponent side from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, former U.S. Sen. and astronaut John Glenn, and MSNBC's "The Ed Show," which planned to air Monday and Tuesday from Columbus.

"These people in Ohio tomorrow are going to render judgment if this is an overreach," the show's host, Ed Schultz, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Kasich has said the law will help hold down taxes and make the state more appealing to business.

The Cleveland rally had an Ivy League flavor, with 56 students from Columbia University and Barnard College, who traveled from New York to Ohio, respectively, to back the union effort.

"We understand that this is an issue that has a lot of national repercussions. It's almost a human rights issue," said Dylan Glendinning, a New Providence, N.J., sophomore who spoke for the group.

The students arrived Friday, knocking on doors in Cleveland and suburban communities in Geauga and Lake counties.

The legislation affects more than 350,000 police, firefighters, teachers, nurses and other government workers. It sets mandatory health care and pension minimums for unionized government employees, bans public worker strikes, scraps binding arbitration and prohibits basing promotions solely on seniority.

We Are Ohio, the labor-backed coalition fighting the law, had raised more than $24 million as of mid-October. Building a Better Ohio, the business-fueled proponent campaign, has raised $8 million.

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AP Statehouse Correspondent Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus and AP writer Lisa Cornwell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.