Tag Archives: SB5

Ohio Issue 2: A Different Kind of Campaign

This fall, for the first time, the issue of collective bargaining was placed directly before voters.  And when more than 61% of Ohioans voted to protect collective bargaining rights and rejected the arguments of the Governor they had elected just a year earlier and of groups like Citizen’s United, it was the workers who had been central in the campaign who announced the victory.  No politicians spoke on stage at the celebration event that night.  No labor leaders.  No national leaders.  It was instead the workers themselves who spoke the words of triumph at the victory party.  This was clearly a very different campaign.

The resistance began quickly over Ohio Governor John Kasich’s 302-page bill – Senate Bill 5 — that eviscerated public sector bargaining.  The extreme bill went even further than other states had dared to go: it would abolish binding arbitration, outlaw fair share provisions, declare strikes unlawful, and completely eliminate many key issues from collective bargaining, including health care plan design, privatization, and staffing levels. Thousands of public and private sector union members and their allies showed up for rallies and hearings at the statehouse.

After the Governor padlocked the doors of the People’s House and pushed the bill through, over 10,000 volunteers collected signatures on petitions to bring the issue to the ballot.  Those petitions filled a semi-truck that was the focus of a terrific parade, delivering the boxes representing Ohio voters’ commitment to worker justice to the Secretary of State’s office.  The mood was festive, proud, and industrial.  My wife (an AFSCME member), two of my daughters, and I marched behind the lawmakers who had voted against SB5.  The Ohio Secretary of State’s office had to stop the petitions from coming into their office until a structural engineer assured us that the office building floor could withstand the weight of the boxes of justice.

Community support grew throughout the campaign with the help of our Outreach Director Karen Gasper.  Much of that support came from churches across the state.  African-American churches brought their members to the polls for early voting.  A Youngstown Catholic Church sponsored a “Blue Mass” for the police, but the special service soon expanded to include other public servants all dressed in blue.  Many faith-based groups, including Lift Dayton and St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Cleveland, held educational forums that brought out scores of members and supporters.  Toledo worshipers held a large event to bring those of faith together in their efforts to defeat Issue 2.  The United Church of Christ spoke out forcefully in opposition to SB 5.  The Catholic Bishops posted social teaching on their website to educate Catholics about the issue.

The effort pushed forward to include student organizers on Ohio college campuses.  The bill would have gutted all collective bargaining rights for a large percentage of faculty, even as a potential strike at Youngstown State University and an organizing campaign at University of Akron during the campaign demonstrated the power of collective bargaining in higher education.

Safety forces pulled together to host anti-SB5 events throughout the state.  Rallies were held with incredible turnout rates in rural areas of Ohio.  Harley riders circled the Statehouse on their hogs.  Workers spoke out and wrote letters to the editors.  Elected officials who voted against Senate Bill 5 were especially helpful in many areas of the state, including some Republicans.  It was truly an 88-county campaign of working people and their allies pulling together in unity.

We did face some challenges to that unity. When Governor Kasich and his friends went after voters’ rights, many African-American leaders called upon labor to lead a citizen’s veto against what is being called the “Voter Suppression Act.” While still fighting SB5, a new coalition was built linking organized labor with African-American organizations in ways that I have never seen in Ohio.  SB5 volunteers circulated petitions fighting the voter suppression bill, and what had started as an obstacle to unity became the glue. By Election Day, 93% of African Americans voted to overturn SB5, according to a poll conducted by the AFL-CIO.

Throughout the petition drive and the campaign on Issue 2 (as SB5 was identified on the November ballot), the Ohio Democratic Party stood firmly on the side of workers.  The Party worked hard to collect signatures, recruit volunteers, and get out no votes on Issue 2.  The ODP brought out nearly 5,000 volunteers to add to the ranks recruited by labor and community organizations. It was an impressive effort that demonstrates the values of the Party, even in a nonpartisan election.

Of course, on the ground organizing is only one part of politics today.  The media campaign over SB5 was also worker-centered. Action-packed ads, produced by The New Media Firm, featured Ohio workers, citizens who explained why they valued those workers, and an ad featuring Ohio hero John Glenn urging Ohio voters to stand up for our “everyday heroes” by voting no.

One of those ads featured 78-year-old Marlene Quinn, who told the story of how her great-granddaughter was saved by Cincinnati firefighters.  The other side recognized the power of that story, so they sliced her words and added material to create an ad in which Quinn seemed to support Issue 2.  Thirty television stations pulled the offensive ad with the stolen, remixed story. .  Yet, even as the political firestorm coined “Grannygate” was burning, Governor Kasich expressed his support for the tactic.

The ads and mailers supporting SB5 were, to a large extent, made possible by outside money, though we will never know exactly how much or where it came from. Most groups supporting the bill will not disclose their funders. Undisclosed amounts of out-of-state cash poured in through groups such as Citizens United (the Citizens United) and the Alliance for American Future. The Alliance flooded the state with mail marked with a Virginia return address that was linked back to former Vice President Chaney’s daughter. The Ohio Liberty Council (a Tea Party group), the Republican Governor’s Association, and the Ohio Republican Party also jumped into the fray.

New media also demonstrated the intensity on our side.  The pro-Issue 2 “Building a Better Ohio’s” Facebook page had 4,368 likes and comments from 1,488 people.  Those numbers were dwarfed by the more than 100,000 likes and 10,847 comments on We Are Ohio’s page opposing SB5.  Our new media program yielded incredible support, including over 11,000 contributors.

In the end, more Ohioans cast votes against Governor Kasich’s top initiative than they did for Governor Kasich a year earlier.  It was a blow away election, with workers winning 61.3% of the vote, including the majority of the vote in 82 out of 88 counties. Participation was higher in this off-year general election than in any other in the history of Ohio.

While union members were incredibly supportive, with an overwhelming 86% showing their solidarity against SB5, 57% of independent voters stood with them.  An even stronger message to the Governor is that 30% of Republicans voted against Issue 2.  Indeed, 26% of those who voted for Kasich just a year ago voted no on Issue 2.

Ohio history suggests that the vote on Issue 2 might predict a larger change in the state’s political climate. In 1958 working people were also campaigning for voters to reject Issue 2.  That year, Issue 2 was a Right-to-Work law.  Two thirds of all Ohioans voted against that issue. Voters also tossed out all the elected officials who had supported the anti-union initiative. It was a clean sweep that tamed anti-worker Ohio politicians for years.  But one need not look back 50 years to know how these out of touch politicians might be punished now. Polls show that the majority of voters will punish legislators who continue to press issues that were in SB5, even the more “popular” parts of it.  Just look to this year’s council elections in Cincinnati.  All four council members who had supported Issue 2 lost their reelection bids.  Perhaps Governor Kasich is lucky that he doesn’t come up for reelection until 2014.

It does seem as if he may have heard the voters’ message. The week after Election Day, the Governor might have shown he is changing his approach; he reached an agreement with the largest state union after just a couple of sessions. The agreement freezes wages for three years but restores step increases and furlough days. He also started to talk more seriously about one of his key campaign issues – jobs.

John W. Ryan

John W. Ryan was first elected president of Cleveland area’s CWA Local 4309 in 1981 at age 21 and was later the principal officer of the Cleveland AFL-CIO Federation of Labor; he served as senior consultant to We Are Ohio and is State Director for U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown.

How Obama Can Win Ohio

Note: This week’s blog is a repost of John Russo’s column from Friday’s Opinionator blog at the New York Times.

The decisive referendum vote to repeal the bill that would limit collective bargaining by public sector unions has changed the political landscape in Ohio. Tuesday’s vote on Senate Bill 5 could and should be a harbinger for the 2012 presidential election. By mounting a direct assault on public sector workers and the unions who represent them, Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio may have done more to help Barack Obama win re-election than anything Obama’s political team is likely to do over the next 12 months.

With Ohio’s continuing high unemployment rate (9.1%!, just like the rest of the U.S), it had seemed unlikely that President Obama could win Ohio, and without Ohio, he’d have difficulty getting re-elected. The same factors make re-election a challenge for Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democratic and one of the most pro-labor members of the Senate. But Kasich, the Republicans in the Ohio legislature and outside conservative financers and think tanks like the Buckeye Institute, may have done Obama and Brown a big favor.

Karl Rove described Senate Bill 5 as a much “more extensive reform” to public sector unions than was enacted in Wisconsin, in part because the Ohio version included firefighters and police officers. While the protests in Columbus were smaller and received less national attention than those in Madison, unions and community groups in Ohio organized a ballot initiative with 10,000 volunteers circulating petitions in all 88 counties. Over 1.3 million Ohioans — more than five times the number required to put the initiative on the ballot — signed the petitions.

Despite a large influx of money from conservative organizations like Citizens United, Freedom Works, and Restoring America, Ohio voters repealed Senate Bill 5 by an overwhelming 22 point margin — 39% yes, 61% no (a no vote was pro-union). Democrats and independents voted overwhelmingly against the measure, and, if pre-election polls are correct, 30% of Ohio Republicans also voted to reject Senate Bill 5.

This should be good news for Obama. While Ohio is notorious for swinging back and forth between supporting Republicans and Democrats, its 18 electoral votes are especially important for Republican candidates. It’s almost impossible for a Republican to win the presidential election without Ohio, and that means winning significant support among union household voters.

According to CNN exit polls from the last few elections, union household voters remain a strong presence in Ohio, even after more than three decades of de-industrialization. Twenty-eight percent of Ohio voters come from union households, compared with 23 percent nationally. In 2008, they underperformed for Obama, who won 56 percent of their votes in Ohio versus 59 percent from union households across the country. No similar data exists for the 2010 midterm election, but many labor leaders admit that Kasich beat the Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, in part because voters from community groups and union households either voted Republican or stayed home (essentially giving half a vote to Kasich).

If union households in Ohio lost their enthusiasm for Democratic candidates in recent years, Kasich’s actions, together with the national Republicans’ just-say-no politics and kill-Medicare initiatives (like the Paul Ryan budget), have made the Democrats look a lot better than they did in 2010.

It all comes down to math. In 2008, 2,933,388 Ohioans voted (or 51.5%) for Obama, 258,897 more than McCain won. If union households maintain their proportion of the electorate, and if just 1 percent more of them vote for Democrats, they can add 15,700 votes to the Democratic vote and subtract the same number from the Republicans – a swing of more than 31,000 votes. If Ohio’s union household voters increase their support for Democrats by 3 percent – that is, if they match the national average for union household voters – they would generate 47,100 additional votes for Obama, a swing of 94,200 votes. That alone could give the president Ohio’s electoral votes.

But because of Senate Bill 5, we might reasonably expect an even larger shift. A recent Quinnipiac poll suggests that the anger generated by the anti-union bill and the organizing fostered by the effort to overturn it has 70 percent of union household voters planning to support Obama and the Democrats in 2012. That translates into an increase of 219,829 votes for Obama, a swing of almost 440,000 votes. Put differently, a mobilized Ohio labor movement with 742,000 members, including many teachers, police officers, and firefighters who have often voted Republican, will be more likely to vote for Democrats in 2012.

This gives Obama the opportunity to score a big victory in Ohio, but that won’t happen solely on the basis of Senate Bill 5. The president must offer a positive economic vision and a program for economic change. The American Jobs Act – even if it must be pushed through piecemeal — is a good start, as are the president’s recent actions on mortgages and student loans.

Such positions will also help Senator Brown’s chances of re-election, but in 2012, in Ohio at least, the usual pattern of members of Congress benefiting from presidential coattails could be reversed. Brown’s solid support for organized labor, community groups and those who have been most hurt by the continuing economic crisis — positions that resonate with the millions of Ohio voters who overturned Senate Bill 5 — may help Obama more than anything Obama has done will help Brown.

None of this is guaranteed, of course. In order for the battle over Senate Bill 5 to influence the 2012 election, those who have organized so effectively to defend unions must continue to work together. Unions will have to keep educating members and reach out to those outside of the labor movement. They will also have to work closely with community and neighborhood groups like the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, which played a pivotal role in community organizing around Senate Bill 5.

None of that will be easy. Competing interests within and between organized labor and community organizations make the coalition very fragile. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. is relatively weak in Ohio, and some tensions exist between public and private sector unions. Meanwhile, Ohio Republicans are threatening to put parts of Senate Bill 5 through in a series of smaller bills next year. Without solidarity across labor organizations, the coalition that fought so well against one big bill could fracture. It may be that other issues won’t have the unifying effect of Senate Bill 5. After all, the same voters who overturned that bill approved a constitutional amendment barring the implementation of the individual insurance mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act.

But if the organizers of the campaign against Senate Bill 5 can hold together and if the Obama campaign can tap into the anger and solidarity of that fight, Tuesday’s vote could turn out to be the turning point in the 2012 election.


John Russo, Center for Working-Class Studies

Fighting for More than A Contract

While Wisconsin drew most of the national media attention as the home front of the battle over collective bargaining for public sector workers, what’s happening in Ohio is every bit as significant and interesting.  Ignoring weeks of protests in the state capitol and around the state, and despite divisions within the Ohio Republican delegations, the Ohio legislature passed Senate Bill 5 in March.  The bill would place tight limits on collective bargaining for most public employees, and it would ban it entirely for college professors (using the language from the Yeshiva Decision that defines us as managers). By June, almost a million people had signed petitions to put the measure on the ballot in November, giving voters the opportunity to overturn the bill – something we can do in Ohio that isn’t an option in Wisconsin.

The petition drive involved unions across the state, as well as community and religious organizations, while local chambers of commerce, businesses, and even the state’s university presidents either overtly advocated for SB5 or insisted on “remaining neutral” and thus passively embraced it .  Those same divisions are playing out as the campaign heats up heading toward November.

For public sector unions, this has been a tough time.  No one wants to make organized labor or collective bargaining look bad right now.  The Ohio Education Association, for example, has encouraged its locals to settle on contracts, no matter how bad, early in the game, and many have complied.

Here at Youngstown State University, we’re living with the political ramifications of this bill right now.  The faculty union, an OEA affiliate, first accepted the recommendations of an external fact finder,   which included small pay raises, a large  increase in our health care costs, and a small cut in pay for teaching summer courses.  We said yes, agreeing to accept what amounted to major concessions, but the Board of Trustees rejected the fact-finder’s report, demanding even greater “shared sacrifice” from the faculty.  Their counterproposal asked for cuts of up to $7500 in a single year for some, though their public statements insisted that most faculty would lose less than $1000.  Much of that loss comes in summer pay, which affects only faculty, not administrators or other staff.  So much for “shared sacrifice.”

Clearly, the upcoming referendum on SB5 has created an especially difficult context for unions.  Some have speculated that the Board of Trustees (most of whom were appointed by Republican governors) is playing hard ball at the request, advice, or encouragement of the Governor or other Republican leaders who hope that a strike by YSU faculty will illustrate the need for this bill. Others are encouraging the faculty to give in to avoid generating public resentment that could lead to a bad outcome in November.  No doubt, every public sector worker in Ohio, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and other states with similar laws must be feeling the pressure to make organized labor look good.  But should  we make every concession we’re asked for, in order to show that unions are reasonable and willing to do our part to balance state and local budgets?  If we do that, aren’t we also willingly contributing to the loss of power for workers and for unions?

Some organizers of the campaign to overturn SB5 have encouraged us to avoid making trouble, but I would argue that the situation at YSU offers a great illustration of why collective bargaining is so important.  What’s happening here illustrates just how bad SB5 and similar bills will be for public sector workers.  If we were not allowed to bargain, the administration would have imposed much bigger cuts.  YSU faculty are already the second-lowest paid in Ohio, and under SB5 we’d be solidly at the bottom, with no recourse whatsoever.

At the same time, we illustrate that collective bargaining works, not only for workers but for employers.  After all, our negotiations have already been built around concessions, not demands for increased salaries.  Further, in exercising our labor rights – by going to fact finding, by holding democratic votes on the proposals, by authorizing a strike and ultimately deciding not to strike, by filing unfair labor practices – we are working through a process that protects us even as it limits some of what we can do.  To my mind, we make a great poster child for public sector bargaining.

For an academic activist who is also deeply engaged in teaching, this has been an especially difficult time.  On the one hand, I’m ready to push this fight as hard as I can, because what happens here matters not only for us but for public workers across the state.  On the other hand, the threat of a strike – and that remains a possibility – creates real difficulties for students.  The University administration has already shown that it is willing to put our students at risk in its effort to force even greater concessions from the faculty.  A week before classes were due to start, YSU announced that it was putting a hold on financial aid, claiming that they could not say with confidence when school would start because the faculty had filed a strike notice.  They had never done this before, despite strike authorizations in previous rounds of negotiations or during an actual strike in 2005.  While assuring students of the administration’s concern, YSU had prepared alternative schedules and a website full of information, and they had sent threatening messages to members of other campus unions insisting that they were required to cross the picket lines.  The faculty union refused to play along, and after voting down the administration’s “last best offer,” we decided not to strike.  Instead, we are back in the classroom, working under the provisions of the old contract and trying to continue negotiations.

Some students responded exactly as the administration must have hoped: blaming the faculty and creating a facebook page that included many statements by students vowing to vote in support of SB5 because of this.  But others were not reeled in.  Instead, they organized.  They created a facebook page, YSU Students for Faculty (which now has almost 900 members), but they also held protests, conducted a letter-writing campaign, and challenged the University administration to treat its workers fairly.  They analyzed the administration’s actions and communications, and they have used a wide range of tools, from social media to filing public records requests to showing up and trying to ask questions at a Board of Trustees press conference last week.  They are also working with the campaign against SB5.

As the students have made clear, this is a case where politics are not entirely local.  What happens here may well affect the statewide vote in November, and of course, I hope it will make clear to anyone who’s unsure about the issue that unions are our best, maybe even our only, tool to protect the rights of workers.  But while the dispute at YSU and the debate over SB5 are inherently political, they also serve as learning opportunities.  The discussion among the students — and even on local talk radio — has encompassed why people should vote to overturn SB5, what’s happening to workers and universities across the country, the sad state of the American dream, and the real purpose of a college degree.  Those conversations remind us that the fate of public sector workers – educators, clerical workers, safety officers, health care workers – is not just about our income or benefits.  It’s about the public good.

Sherry Linkon, Center for Working-Class Studies

Now’s the Time: Organizing in the Face of the Class War

Despite inspiring and massive rallies and protest campaigns, the two most visible attacks on America’s working class – the anti-union bills in Wisconsin and Ohio – have both been signed into law.  While the attack on public sector unions is, in itself, just the latest salvo in an ongoing class war, its effects will go far beyond the workers directly involved.  These bills will lead to restructuring of a variety of public services, from education and home health care to government offices and police stations.

Over the last 30 years, many of the economic battles have been fought on a local or regional level, and in many cases, only the most-directly affected workers got involved. In Ohio, for example, struggles over deindustrialization and organized labor occurred primarily in steel and auto factories in the northern part of the state, making statewide organizing against economic restructuring difficult because many workers  were not directly impacted.

But things might be different this time.  In most states, new limits on public sector bargaining will affect people in every city and town, as well as people in very different situations – workers, students, the elderly, families with young children, and others.   That creates opportunities for organizing cross geographical boundaries.  Similarly, these bills create potential new constituencies as students, younger workers, women, and people of color recognize that they will be disproportionately impacted. While blacks comprise 15% of all adult workers, they are 18.5% of the public sector workers, and Ohio Policy Matters found that of the 700,000 Ohio public sector workers more than 400,000 are women. Women comprise an even higher percentage of teachers in K-12 education, especially in traditionally Republican suburban areas. As Natasha Vargas-Cooper noted in yesterday’s New York Times, this attack helps create the potential for coalitions that will link the traditionally weaker unions representing female service workers with the more respected safety workers unions, dominated by men.

The latest battle in the class war may even draw some unexpected allies.  In Youngstown, one the nation’s fastest growing technology firms, Turning Technologies, has withdrawn from the Regional Chamber of Commerce in protest of its support  of SB5, as have two other local companies.  All of which is to suggest that mobilizing around public sector ballot initiatives and recall campaigns could be both wide and deep.

Getting thousands to show up for rallies or write letters in the fever of the initial public sector skirmishes hasn’t been that hard.  Over the last two months, people have been angry, and they wanted to take action.  And while making the drive across the state to be part of a crowd of tens of thousands is a significant commitment of time and energy, it’s also exciting.  As the videos showing witty signs and costumes remind us, protesting can be fun and even aerobic.

But now is the time for on the ground organizing, and the work ahead will be less dramatic and in many ways much harder than showing up for a protest or writing a letter.  Going door-to-door to get signatures can be thought of as hand-to-hand combat where individuals have to be informed and ready to perform in a sometimes hostile environment. But it’s also essential to the political process, especially given the amount of money corporations and conservative business interests will be spending on political advertising to defeat repeal/recall initiatives.

To make matters worse, organizers will have to overcome the effects of the dashed hopes of the  Obama presidency.  As Chris Hedges writes in The Death of the Liberal Class, progressives understand that the party they once counted on to advance their interests has sold out to the big money that controls so much of the political process.  Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson review the political and policy decisions of the last few decades in Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer – And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, tracing how corporate influence has pervaded Democrat Party politics and caused growing inequality in America.

At the end of their book, Hacker and Pierson suggest several key elements for changing the trend toward inequality, including “facilitat[ing] broader participation among those whose voices are currently drowned out” and “encourag[ing] the development of groups that can provide a continuing, organized capacity to mobilize middle-class voters and monitor government and politics on their behalf” (303).  For decades, working people – including those who did not belong to unions – counted on the labor movement to fulfill both of these functions.

With shrinking numbers and new legislation limiting its capacity, the labor movement can’t do this on its own. Nor should it. While the laws being passed now focus on public sector unions, the war won’t end there.  In Ohio, bills are being proposed to ban overtime and institute “right to work” rules.  State budgets across the country and the House’s proposed federal budget all undermine support for working families and the poor, while refusing the challenge subsidies to business or to hold banks accountable for the financial crisis.  As we wrote last month, the working class is under attack on multiple fronts, and we need to stand together to fight back.

We need to build a movement that crosses boundaries – between public- and private-sector unions, the traditional working class of industrial, blue-collar workers and the new working class of retail and service workers, between the working class and the middle class, cities and suburbs, and among diverse types of organizations.  We need community organizers, churches, students, and others to work together.  In Youngstown, the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative has organized its 44 neighborhood groups together with labor unionists, community faith-based groups, local non-profits and social service agencies to form a revenue coalition to fight state budget cuts.

And much of that collaborative effort must focus on the political process.  In Ohio, opponents of SB5 have to collect more than 230,000 signatures to get a referendum on the ballot, and then we need to do everything possible to get people out to the polls.  We need to mobilize the kind of engagement in the political process that put Barack Obama into office.  As a popular T-shirt from 2008 stated, we need to “be the change.”  Neither Obama nor the Democrats have done it for us.  It’s our turn.

We also need to take a page from the Tea Party.  Their efforts have contributed significantly to blocking the progressive possibilities of the 2008 election.  They succeeded by channeling their anger and fear into significant pressure on politicians.  We need to do the same.  That means we have to find the energy and commitment to keep on protesting, to challenge our elected officials – even those we think are most on our side – to truly represent us, and to get our share of the media spotlight.  We also need to keep in mind that despite the infusion of thousands of dollars from wealthy contributors, the Tea Party engaged in plenty of grassroots organizing.  We have to do that, too.  We need to be out there knocking on doors, talking with friends and relatives, gathering signatures for ballot and recall initiatives, and doing whatever it takes to put pressure on our elected leaders to support workers and our communities.

Here’s one place to begin: the National People’s Action “Showdown in Ohio,” May 16-17, to demand that businesses like J.P. Morgan “clean up their own mess.”  Join us in Columbus to show the world that the American working class isn’t going to back down.  And then go back to your neighborhood, your church, your gym, wherever it is you talk with anyone who might not be convinced, and tell them the story of how the rich are getting richer and the rest of us are losing our grip on the American dream.  Better yet, tell them your own story of how the war on the working class is making a difference in your community.

Sherry Linkon and John Russo, Center for Working-Class Studies