Last updated: September 06. 2013 3:47PM - 72 Views

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ANN SANNER

Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS — The Ohio Chamber of Commerce pledged Wednesday to put money and the political clout of its 6,000 business members behind the state’s new collective bargaining law.

Voters in November will consider a ballot question seeking a repeal of the law, which would let public worker unions negotiate on wages but not health care, sick time or pension benefits. The board members of the state’s largest business advocacy group voted in a Wednesday meeting to defend the law and to also back an effort to keep Ohioans from being required to buy health insurance.

The board did not decide how much to money it planned to spend in defense of the contentious collective bargaining legislation, said Ohio Chamber spokeswoman Julie Wagner Feasel. The board members also did not commit any dollars in backing a proposed amendment to Ohio’s constitution that would prohibit any federal, state or local law from forcing Ohioans to participate in a health care system.

On both ballot issues though, the Ohio Chamber plans leverage support from its members through newsletters and e-mails, Feasel said. The group also wants to work with other local chambers to educate voters.

Andrew E. Doehrel, president and CEO of the Ohio Chamber, said that in its decision to defend the collective bargaining law, the board “recognized the fundamental imbalance” between the cost of government and Ohio’s economic reality.

“By committing the Chamber’s resources, financial and otherwise, to this important endeavor, Ohio’s job creators are reiterating the message that Ohio must be open for business,” Doehrel said in a written statement.

The chamber’s support should give the backers of the collective bargaining law and the so-called Healthcare Freedom Amendment a welcomed boost from businesses going into what’s expected to be a bitter fall campaign against labor unions.

The most recent campaign filing reports show that the group opposing the collective bargaining law has raised about $7 million.

The state’s labor groups representing teachers, police officers and firefighters have also turned to their members to help pay for the repeal campaign. For instance, members of the Ohio Education Association have already agreed to a one-time, $54 dues increase. The move was expected to yield $5.5 million for the ballot effort.

The law signed by Gov. John Kasich in late March bans public employee strikes and restricts collective bargaining rights for more than 350,000 teachers, police officers, state employees and others. Aside from restricting bargaining, it bans strikes and gets rid of automatic pay increases, replacing them with merit raises or performance pay.

Other business groups have also recently thrown their support behind upholding the collective bargaining restrictions. They include the Greater Cleveland Partnership, one of the largest metropolitan chambers of commerce in the country, and chambers of commerce in Cincinnati and Dayton.

Opponents contend the collective bargaining restrictions are an unfair attack on public employee unions that had worked cooperatively with their government employers for decades. They accuse lawmakers of exploiting a state budget crisis to pass a measure unpopular with a majority of Ohioans.

However, Kasich, a first-term governor, and his GOP colleagues argue the legislation will help city officials, school superintendents and others control their costs at a time when they, too, are feeling budget woes. Kasich has said he wants to play a visible role defending the law.

The governor has enjoyed strong ties with the chamber since his campaign for office. Last September, the chamber’s political arm broke a 117-year tradition of not wading into the gubernatorial election by endorsing Kasich over then-Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.

This fall’s ballot issues are not the first that the Ohio Chamber has supported.

While the group tends to stay out of ballot questions on social issues such as gay marriage, its board members have weighed in on matters they see could impact businesses. For instance, the chamber worked to successfully get voters to extend the high-tech Third Frontier grant program, which began in 2002 and provides startup money for companies in industries such as alternative energy and biomedical research.

Also Wednesday, the state Ballot Board approved the wording Ohioans will see Nov. 8 when they vote on the health care amendment. The panel was also to decide the ballot language for the fate of the collective bargaining law.

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