A new law in the US state of Ohio, limiting the collective bargaining abilities of 350,000 unionised public workers, has been defeated after an expensive union-backed campaign that pitted firefighters, police officers and teachers against the state's Republican establishment.
The unpopular anti-union law, which had not yet taken effect, was thrown out on Tuesday after voters overturned it in a referendum by a margin of 62 to 38, elections officials reported in preliminary results.
Current union rules will stand until the Republican-controlled legislature decides its next move.
The vote has been seen as a referendum on Ohio's Republican Governor John Kasich.
John Kasich, who is suffering from one of the lowest gubernatorial approval ratings in the nation at about 33 per cent, had became the face of the fight to keep the law.
"It's clear that the people have spoken," Kasich told reporters.
"I've heard their voices, I understand their decision and frankly I respect what people have to say in an effort like this as a result of that, it requires me to take a deep breath and to spend some time reflecting on what happened here."
The governor had travelled the state to promote retaining the law, which set new minimum contributions for public employee health care and retirement, and banned strikes by public employees, among other provisions.
Supporters promoted the law as a means for local governments to save money and keep workers. Opponents said the union limits threatened public safety with little proof of cost savings.
Unions and their supporters took to the streets in mass protests earlier this year when Republican-dominated legislatures in Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and other states pushed through bills detrimental to public sector unions.
Republicans insisted the restrictions were the only way to close gaping budget deficits and tried to paint public workers as greedy, lazy and living large off gold-plated pension and health care benefits.
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The attacks on teachers, firefighters, police and nurses backfired and created an alternative outlet for middle-class economic fears that had at that point only been filled on the right by Tea Party activists.
Democrats worked to harness that anger, just as they have been trying to benefit from the anti-corporate greed activists who have been flooding Occupy Wall Street protests across the nation.
Ohio activists collected 900,000 signatures, nearly three times the required amount, to get the measure on the off-year election ballot - in support of overturning the bill which stripped the state's public workers of most of their bargaining rights.
Millions of dollars poured into the state as airways filled with competing advertisements ahead of the vote.
The head of the AFL-CIO union's Ohio branch called Tuesday's victory "only the beginning".
"Working people are coming together to call for an economy and an Ohio that fights for workers' rights and an economy that works for everyone in all occupations and trades and make positive economic change for working families,
the middle class and all Main Street Ohioans," Tim Burga said in a statement.
The Democratic National Committee hailed Ohio's rejection of a "blatantly partisan attempt to lay the blame for our economy on middle class Americans, while letting the wealthiest and special interests off the hook and not asking
them to pay their fair share".