EXCLUSIVE: GOP Senator Yanked Off Committee Speaks Out, Was Informed 30 Minutes Before Anti-Union Vote

On Wednesday, just moments before a key committee in the Ohio State Senate was to vote on a GOP bill that would effectively dismantle public employees’ right to collectively bargain, the Senate’s Republican leader replaced a GOP committee member who opposed the bill with someone who supported it to ensure the measure passed. It was a brazen and nearly unprecedented move, and even more so considering that State Sen. Bill Seitz (R) told ThinkProgress that he is good friends with, and has been roommates for ten years with State Senate President Tom Niehaus, who yanked Seitz off the committee. Indeed, they were sworn in to the state House on the same day and eventually followed each other to the Senate, sharing an apartment in the capital throughout.

In a telephone interview with ThinkProgress yesterday afternoon, Seitz recounted how he was informed of the move by his good friend Niehaus just a half hour before the vote. Seitz, a conservative Republican who proudly noted that he works for a “management-side” law firm founded by the namesake of the very pro-management Taft-Hartley Act, said he supports “85 percent” of Senate Bill 5, but ultimately opposed it because it “goes to far.”

Asked about his abrupt removal from the committee, Seitz said it was “not unheard of, but not commonplace.” He couldn’t recall a time when something similar had occurred in the Senate. Moreover, he noted that his abrupt removal sends a bad signal to Ohio workers concerned about their own future:

SEITZ: [I told Niehaus] I’m not sure it looks real good, particularly in the context of a management rights bill, to have you exercise management rights over your own roommate, friend, and fellow party member. Because if that’s what can happen to a sitting state senator, what’s going to happen to you if you’re a nervous firefighter, teacher, or policeman — what’s going to happen to you if this bill passes?

Asked whether Niehaus’s move may have violated Senate rules because the president failed to officially declare the committee change before it went into effect, Seitz said that while he has “not independently researched it,” he was “of the opinion” that an official declaration was required. Seitz said he raised the concern with Niehaus, who “said that he had been advised by his legal counsel…that he had the legal authority to do it whenever he wanted to.” “I didn’t feel like arguing about it,” Seitz added.

Seitz said he firmly supports the right of state employees to collectively bargain, but that there needs to be reforms — he just thinks S.B. 5 overreaches. “I don’t think you need to so totally eviscerate collective bargaining to achieve those results,” Seitz said. “And I say that informed by an employer’s perspective of labor law,” he added. Most objectionable for Seitz is the bill’s replacement of a binding arbitration process with one that greatly favors management over employees. “It’s tantamount to someone being both a judge and advocate in their own case. It’s tantamount to heads I win, tails you loose,” Seitz said.