COLUMBUS, Ohio - At a press conference in Columbus Dec. 10, a full month before taking office, Ohio Republican Governor-elect John Kasich declared war on all public employees and workers employed under state contracts.
Kasich called for repeal of the state's collective bargaining law for public employees passed in 1983, ending binding arbitration for safety forces, firing safety workers who strike and eliminating prevailing wage requirements in state contracts.
"I really don't favor the right to strike of any public employee, OK? That's my personal philosophy. ... They got good jobs, they got high pay, what are they striking for?" said the multimillionaire Kasich, who received a $400,000 bonus as managing director of Lehman Brothers the year they went bankrupt and helped collapse the economy.
The occasion was to announce his nominee for state tax commissioner who, he said, shares his aim of abolishing all state income taxes despite an expected $8 billion budget shortfall. Eliminating the income tax as well as state estate taxes, which he also proposes, would more than double the deficit and require draconian reductions in all public services.
Kasich has said he is exploring the sale of major state assets, including the turnpike and the prison system.
Kasich never mentioned his plans to eliminate union rights during his bitterly contested campaign. If he had, undoubtedly he would have galvanized against him even the more conservative sections of labor including police, firefighters and some of the building trades. As it was, he won with only 49 percent of the vote, a margin of two points over his opponent, incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland.
Kasich's campaign was based on exploiting frustration with the economic crisis, which he blamed on Strickland even though Ohio posted the fifth largest growth in jobs of any state despite the recession.
Kasich has already cost Ohio the loss of over 10,000 jobs when he announced he would refuse $400 million in federal funds for a high-speed rail project. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the money would be reallocated to other states.
Kasich said he would also rescind Strickland's executive orders to allow unionization of 14,000 home health care and day care providers.
He widened his attack on labor at a second press conference in Cleveland on Dec. 15 where he called for state takeover of failing school districts such as the one in Cleveland. Standing at his side was Ronn Richard, head of the Cleveland Foundation, who said his group's top priority is repeal of a law enacted in 1941 requiring layoff by seniority for teachers.
Already the labor movement is fighting back.
A few days before Kasich's opening shots, labor mobilized to beat back an effort to pass a resolution calling on the Ohio General Assembly to reconsider the public employee collective bargaining law. The action came at the Dec. 7 meeting of the city council of Middletown, located between Dayton and Cincinnati. Hundreds of workers from throughout the area packed council chambers when it was learned that a right-wing freshman councilman had introduced the measure. Every speaker at the meeting, including Jon Harvey, president of Middletown Fire Fighters Local 336, blasted the proposal, which was tabled in a 6-1 vote.
AFSCME Council 8, the largest of the public employee unions in Ohio, is planning a meeting after the New Year to consider how to respond to the attack. Discussions are also under way at the Ohio AFL-CIO led by President Joe Rugola, head of the state public school employee union, an affiliate of AFSCME.
Since similar threats have been made by governors of other states, AFSCME has launched a national "Stop the Lies" website with a video countering the effort by Republicans and their media flaks to scapegoat public workers for the economic crisis caused by Wall Street.
"Kasich and his fellow Republicans are setting up a battle royale with union interests," the Cleveland Plain Dealer warned in a Dec. 19 editorial. "What Ohio needs on this," it pleaded, "is civilized debate, not dueling slogans. Some Republicans, for example, deride the purportedly high pay and lush benefits of public employees. But no economy ever grew by arbitrarily driving down the living standards of working people - including those who toil for their fellow taxpayers."
What ever was the Plain Dealer thinking when it endorsed Kasich in the election?