By Jim Leckrone
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Thousands of people picketed the state Capitol on Tuesday to protest a bill to cut collective bargaining rights for state workers.
In a local repeat of an issue that has roiled Wisconsin over the last two weeks, state Republican leaders say the bill is necessary to address the state's budget problems, while union leaders say it is designed to hurt unions.
"The intent is to give taxpayers a seat at the negotiating table," said Jason Mauk, spokesman for Ohio Senate Republicans.
Introduced in late January, the bill was scheduled for a state Senate Committee hearing on Tuesday.
Ohio's bill goes farther than Wisconsin's in some ways, Mauk said. While Wisconsin's bill allows collective bargaining on wages, up to the rate of inflation, for state workers, the Ohio bill prohibits collective bargaining for 42,000 state workers in addition to 19,500 workers in the state's university and college system.
This would end a right established in 1983 for Ohio's public-sector workers.
For local governments that bargain with unions representing some 300,000 workers including police, firefighters, and public school teachers, the bill removes health care and some other benefits from the negotiating process.
Like Wisconsin, Ohio has a new Republican governor and Republican majorities in both legislative houses.
"What's happening in Ohio is similar to what's happening in Wisconsin," said Joseph Slater, professor of law at the University of Toledo College of Law.
Slater said there is no correlation between whether a state gives collective bargaining rights to workers and whether they have a deficit.
"I don't think you have to be terribly cynical to think there's a partisan thing going on," Slater said. "Unions, public-sector unions especially, support Democrats with money and foot soldiers more often than they do Republicans."
(Reporting by Andrew Stern and Jim Leckrone; Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Peter Bohan and Jan Paschal)