COLUMBUS, Ohio – Despite favorable public opinion polls, Ohio unionists are taking nothing for granted and ramping up their campaign to repeal right-wing Gov. John Kasich’s anti-worker anti-union law, as a Nov. 8 referendum on it nears.

Workers are pounding the pavements showing the everyday impact of Kasich’s measure, SB5, which he pushed through the GOP-run Ohio legislature earlier this year. 

They’re also advertising. In one spot, a woman says Fire Fighters saved her 2-year-old daughter’s life, yet Kasich’s law would take away the Fire Fighters’ right to collectively bargain for equipment and staffing to make such rescues possible. But the unionists are not really relying on an air war to win. Their troops are on the ground.

“Last weekend we had over 2,000 volunteers” on the streets, says Ohio AFL-CIO spokesman Jason Perlman. Unions expected to field even more on Halloween weekend and 10,000 in get-out-the-vote drives in the final weekend before the election.

“What’s really been great is that every union has come aboard – AFL-CIO, Change To Win, you name it,” even though Kasich’s law would end collective bargaining rights only for Ohio’s 400,000 state and local government workers, Perlman adds.

The other unionists understand, and have communicated to Ohio voters, that Kasich and his right-wing backers in their nationwide war on workers and the middle class don’t stop with trashing public workers. Private sector workers are targets, too.

Opinion polls show the unionists’ effort appears to be working: An early-October tally gave the foes of SB5 a 51 percent to 38 percent lead, while a mid-October survey expanded that to 57 percent to 32 percent. Kasich’s popularity, the latter survey said, is also in the 30s.

“This is the best effort we’ve ever put forward,” Perlman says.  He adds unionists hope it’s a preview of similar enthusiasm for the 2012 election. Unionists campaigning this year “are all saying ‘We’ve got to do this for the middle class of Ohio.'”

The state fed may coordinate the campaign, but everyone else is pitching in, finding new ways to counteract the right wing’s TV ad blitz and Kasich’s stumping.

“We must defend and support workers’ rights wherever they are challenged,” Utility Workers President Mike Langford said Oct. 27, urging his members to work the state. And Teamsters President James Hoffa, in a Columbus Day campaign visit to Cincinnati, called SB5 “a war on workers.”  He says it would lead to layoffs, cut workers wages and let the GOP outsource some state jobs overseas.

“They’re coming after us,” said Hoffa. “This is about getting rid of the middle class. This is about lowering the wages of average people who have fought and worked hard to make Ohio what it is,” Hoffa told a crowd in front of UFCW Local 75’s hall.

“Good jobs grow our communities. Good jobs allow parents to put dinner on the table, make a home, and to send their kids to college,” Local 75 President Lennie Wyatt told that same rally, which drew 1,000 people. “Politicians shouldn’t tell us that good jobs are destroying our neighborhoods. Good jobs are what make safe, vibrant communities for all of us.” Local 75 urged its members to vote early, by absentee ballot, then get out and work the neighborhoods. 

Unionists are also enlisting non-union allies. And they’re discovering – and exposing – new negative impacts of Kasich’s law, such as its provision forcing them to pay at least 15 percent of their health care premiums and contribute at least 10 percent of pay to pensions. Kasich says unions refused to bargain on those points. Firefighter Dave Stern, at the Cincinnati rally, told local reporters that’s a lie. “We didn’t come to the table and say we didn’t want to pay our pensions,” he added.

“Senate Bill 5 is a direct assault on the rights and protections the labor movement worked for and fought to gain over the last century. It is part of an extreme agenda to boost the profits of corporate CEOs and millionaires at the expense of Ohio’s working families,” Bakery Workers President Frank Hurt said. “SB 5 is a law that is part of the larger plan to destroy working families, the middle class and the labor movement.”

The Steelworkers found another impact of Kasich’s law: It would strip returning veterans – including reservists who left state and local jobs to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq – of their right to return to their jobs. That would not only leave them jobless, but also leave their families without health care, writes USW blogger Tonya Somander.

“Before SB5, unions could ensure soldiers could return to the exact position that they left. Under SB5, that may disappear too. Ohio is home to nearly 1 million veterans. That is why Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Paul Worley decided to campaign against the law,” Somander reported.

The Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police opposed SB5 even before it cleared the legislature, and still doesn’t like the measure. “Collective bargaining has played an important role in modern police employee/management relations. It is extremely important to maintain balance between employee rights and management rights, and in most cases this becomes an issue of local concern,” was one of their points.  



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.