ANTI-UNION MEASURE BECOMES LAW IN OHIO…. Following Wisconsin’s lead, Ohio’s new right-wing governor, the increasingly-unpopular John Kasich (R), signed an anti-union bill into law late yesterday, limiting the collective bargaining rights of 350,000 public workers.

The 350,000 public workers covered under the law can still negotiate wages and certain work conditions — but not health care, sick time or pension benefits. The measure also does away with automatic pay raises and bases future wage increases on merit.

It applies to teachers, nurses and many other government workers, including police and firefighters, who were exempt in the Wisconsin measure.

For advocates of working families, the developments surrounding the proposal, known as SB 5, were obviously discouraging, but this is seen as a round-one setback.

Indeed, opponents of the Republican plan now have 90 days to collect 231,148 signatures from at least half Ohio’s 88 counties. If they do, the issue will go to voters statewide as a ballot initiative, giving Ohioans a chance to repeal the new anti-union law before it does significant damage.

In the meantime, it’s worth appreciating just how offensive Kasich’s new law really is. While not identical to Wisconsin’s measure, Ohio’s public sector workers, in addition to losing some of their collective bargaining rights, makes it harder for union to collect fees, prohibits strikes, and blocks police officers and firefighters from entering binding arbitration.

…James Brudney, a labor law professor at Ohio State University, said the bill effectively crippled collective bargaining. “There’s a kind of mask or illusion element in this,” he said. “The essence of collective bargaining is when you can’t agree on terms of a contract, you have a dispute resolution mechanism, by strikes or perhaps binding arbitration. Here, you have none of that. That’s not collective bargaining. I’d call it collective begging. It’s a conversation that ends whenever an employer decides that it ends.”

The bill would allow public employees who are covered by union contracts but who choose not to belong to the union to opt out of paying union dues or fees. The bill would also bar any governmental unit in Ohio from deducting any part of a worker’s paycheck and giving it to the union for political activities unless the worker gave express permission.

The bill would bar any union contract that limited a public employer’s ability to privatize operations. It eliminates statutory schedules and steps that automatically increase salaries year by year, and it bars seniority, by itself, from determining who is to be laid off.

“This bill is a reprehensible attack on the middle class and the rights of Ohio’s workers,” said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “It undermines our basic American values by attacking the right of Ohio workers to have a voice on the job.”

Will the left be able to collect the necessary signatures in time to force the matter onto the ballot? It’ll be a challenge, but labor leaders are optimistic, and for a change, the “enthusiasm gap” appears to favor the left.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.