While national attention has focused for weeks on a similar battle in Wisconsin, the vote, by 17-16 in Ohio's Republican-controlled Senate, virtually ensured that the Buckeye State will become the first to strip collective-bargaining rights from public employees as states grapple with recent gaping budget deficits.
The move is especially significant because Ohio is larger than Wisconsin, and like its fellow Midwestern state, is both a stronghold of public-sector labor unions and a swing state politically.
The bill now goes to the House, where the Republicans have a 59-40 majority. If approved, as expected, it will move for signature to Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who supports the bill.
Mr. Kasich believes it would help local governments control labor costs, spokesman Rob Nichols said.
Ohio's labor leaders, while noting the narrow passage in the Senate, weren't optimistic about stopping the bill in the House.
"We're expecting it to pass," said Jason Perlman, a spokesman for the Ohio AFL-CIO. But, he added, "We are hopeful those in the Ohio House will see this bill is nothing more than an attack on the middle class."
After three weeks of raucous debate that drew thousands of protesters to the state Capitol, the Ohio Senate on Wednesday approved by the slimmest margin possible a bill that would drastically reduce collective bargaining rights for Ohio's public workers.
The bill would overhaul Ohio's nearly 30-year-old collective bargaining law. Democrats and unions have pledged to put the bill before voters if it also passes the House and the governor signs it into law.
The bill redefines what contract terms public workers can collectively bargain with their employer. Wages can still be negotiated. Health care benefits, pension pick-ups and other provisions, however, will be off the table. And management can decide to negotiate other terms, including safety forces' equipment.
The bill also bans public workers from striking, establishes penalties for striking -- including jail time -- and establishes a new system for resolving labor disputes. Instead of binding arbitration, the employer's legislative body, such as a city council, would decide whether to side with a union or management.
A merit-based pay system would be established . If workers are laid off, length of employment could not be the only factor under consideration.
In Wisconsin, Senate Democrats, 14 of them, ran away from the state to avoid a vote like the one just made in Ohio.