By Jo Ingles
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - An Ohio House committee is expected on Tuesday to vote on a bill that would restrict collective bargaining rights for public employees and ban them from striking.
House Labor Committee Chair Joseph Uecker said lawmakers will likely modify the bill by removing jail time as a possible penalty for public workers who participate in strikes, and is considering other changes. The Ohio Senate passed a tougher version of the bill by a 17-16 margin earlier this month.
Governor John Kasich says he's not concerned that the House version of the bill will be too watered down. He said the bill will put taxpayers and public employees on a more equal footing regarding pay and benefits.
"This is really nothing more than an effort to re-balance the system and make sure that the people who pay the taxes are represented at the table," Kasich said.
The Wisconsin and Idaho legislatures have already passed laws that limit collective bargaining rights for state union workers.
While Wisconsin has gained more national attention, Ohio is far more important to the union movement. It has the sixth largest number of public sector union members among all U.S. states, twice the number of Wisconsin.
Kasich said the bill will give local communities a way to control their costs.
Other changes in the proposed House version make it even tougher on unions, including prohibiting union dues deductions from government paychecks.
Thousands of union members are expected to descend on the Ohio Statehouse in the next few days as the bill is voted out of committee and comes to the floor.
Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature, and the governor's office. At least one Democrat, Representative Kenny Yuko, admitted Monday the fight to kill the bill at the Statehouse is probably over.
"We are looking at a referendum. I think we all know it," Yuko said. He said Democrats and union members will soon be gathering the needed petition signatures so Ohio voters will likely be able to vote to keep or kill the law themselves at the ballot box this November.
(Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Jerry Norton)