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Ohio union law foes deliver enough signatures to force vote

By Jo Ingles

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Opponents trying to repeal a controversial Ohio law curbing the union rights of government workers on Wednesday delivered more than enough signatures to force a statewide vote on the measure in November, critics of the law said.

"We really blew it out," said Mark Sanders, a Cincinnati fire department lieutenant and the president of the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters. He said now firefighters go into "campaign mode."

Opponents collected some 1.3 million signatures, or about 15 percent of Ohio registered voters, well above the 231,000 required by law to get on the ballot. They delivered the signatures in a semi-trailer truck in a parade to the secretary of state's office in downtown Columbus. The signatures must still be validated.

The law has not yet taken effect, and will not be implemented pending the November 8 election.

Signed by Governor John Kasich on April 1, the law curbs collective bargaining and bans strikes for about 360,000 public workers. Ohio was the most populous state to pass anti-union legislation this year.

While massive protests in Wisconsin grabbed national attention, Ohio is more important to the union movement. It has the nation's sixth largest number of public sector union members, which is twice as many as Wisconsin.

Wisconsin's legislation limiting collective bargaining for public workers took effect Wednesday.

One of the biggest problems for Ohio unions has been a change that does away with binding arbitration in contract disputes, letting the legislative body choose its own offer if negotiations fall apart. Opponents say this effectively ends collective bargaining, because the employer can always come out on top.

Supporters of the law say it gives local governments and schools tools to reduce costs.

"We're confident that we will have a broad grass-roots campaign in support of the reasonable reforms we're asking of our government employees," said Jason Mauk, a spokesman for Building a Better Ohio, which will campaign in favor of the law. "Ohioans will have a choice between keeping the failed policies that have taken us in the wrong direction or embracing some very reasonable reforms to help drive our economic recovery."

A Quinnipiac University poll released May 18 found that 54 percent of Ohio voters think the law should be repealed, compared with 36 percent who want to keep it.

(Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Additional reporting by Jo Ingles; Editing by Greg McCune)

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