COLUMBUS, Ohio, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Protesters marched at the Ohio Capitol Tuesday against a bill that would end collective bargaining for state employees and limit bargaining for local workers.
The Ohio Highway Patrol restricted access to the Statehouse in Columbus Tuesday, forcing thousands of protesters to stand outside in cold weather, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
"My taxes pay for this and I should be allowed in," said Diane Twarog, a Service Employees International Union representative who traveled from St. Clairsville, Ohio.
Democrats said they would seek an injunction to force Capitol officials and the highway patrol to open the doors and allow more people to enter. House Minority Leader Armond Budish, a Democrat, said it was sad that people must get a court order to get into the Statehouse to talk to their legislators.
"This is what we ask for -- we want people to participate," Burdish said. "They come down from all parts of Ohio to participate in government and the doors are locked. That is wrong."
Joe Andrews, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, said crowds were limited for safety reasons, but if a court order were issued, "we will abide by it."
The Ohio bill would end collective bargaining for state workers, replacing it with a merit-based pay system, and police and firefighters, already barred from striking, would lose binding arbitration, the Dispatch said. The bill also would weaken local bargaining for teachers and others bargaining units in several areas, including removing stepped pay increases and sick days from state law, and end bargaining for health insurance. Teachers still could strike, but school officials could hire permanent replacements.
The protests are similar to protests in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature have been prevented from enacting legislation -- which would restrict collective bargaining to wages only -- because Democratic lawmakers are away from the Capitol in hiding.
Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said Tuesday if the bill is rushed through the Legislature, a ballot challenge would follow.
"The people of the state will gather together and we'll put this on the ballot," Redfern said. "If it's a piece of legislation, we will repeal it at the ballot box, and that will happen. That is the great fear the Republican Party has right now, because of the overreach they're playing out right now."