Ohio unions gear up for November elections

Warning that low turnout in the November elections could be disastrous for the state’s embattled working families, the 29th biennial convention of the Ohio AFL-CIO, meeting in Cincinnati Sept. 16-17, hammered out a plan to educate and mobilize union members to elect the Democratic Party slate led by gubernatorial candidate Ed Fitzgerald. Throughout the entire meeting of 550 delegates and guests Sept.16-17 in Cincinnati, impassioned speeches by state and national union leaders and the statewide candidates repeatedly drove home the severe danger of inaction in the face of this threat.

“I have never seen such hostility, so many non-stop attacks on working people,” Tim Burga, President of the state federation, declared in his opening address, referring to the actions of the Republican controlled legislature and the administration of incumbent Gov. John Kasich. “The greedy corporate forces won’t stop unless and until we stop them.”

“In 2011 the people of Ohio turned back Kasich’s attempt to destroy collective bargaining rights for public employees,” said Rich Trumka, National AFL-CIO President, “But the attack continues, still breathing like a vampire.”

The election in Ohio, he said, “is bigger than Kasich” and is really about “a 40-year decline” in living standards. “Working families are working harder and harder for less and less,” he said. “The infrastructure is deteriorating, investments in public services are being slashed, there are more tax cuts for the top 1 percent, and the gap in wealth and income has never been so high.”

“Everyone from Pres. Obama to the Pope is talking about it,” he said. “That’s what’s at stake in this election.”

But, he added, “The landscape is changing. There’s a new story in America. Activism is on the rise.” Citing the national strike and organizing movement of low wage and fast food workers, Trumka said, “There is something brewing in the United States. There is a pent up populism. People want work to lift us up, not trap ourselves in poverty. There is a pent up hunger for a better life. Americans are sick and tired of losing middle class jobs. We want an economy that works for everyone.”

“We have a chance to win on Nov. 4th, he continued. “We’re the vast, vast, vast majority. This is our country and it’s time we took her back.”

Citing Republican bills to break organized labor through so-called “Right-To Work ” legislation and the Kasich Administration’s persistent efforts to restrict voting, Trumka called for all out efforts to elect the Fitzgerald slate. “They’re great candidates.”

The right wing “want you to believe you can do nothing about the economy, but the economy is just a set of rules.”

So, he ended, as the delegates stood and cheered, “Get off your seats and on your feet. You’re going to have to work for it. You’re going to have to fight for it.”

Fitzgerald, who is currently Cuyahoga County Executive, State Senator Nina Turner, the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, and State Representative John Patrick Carney running for State Auditor were all greeted with enthusiasm as they denounced Kasich’s attempt to destroy public employee unions, his policies of privatizing jobs, transferring funds from public to for-profit charter schools run by his campaign donors, cutting $1 billion from local government services to pay for tax cuts for the top 1 percent, closing women’s health care clinics, making it harder for working people and minorities to vote and refusing to even meet with steelworkers facing closing of the Ormet plant.

“Kasich works for Wall Street,” Fitzgerald said. “I respect working people and the right of all workers to organize.”

“We can’t let ‘Right-To-Work’ happen here,” Fitzgerald said. “”It will take everyone down.”

Currently trailing in the polls and short of funds, Fitzgerald called for equal pay for women and raising the minimum wage. “They may have more money, but they don’t have heart,” he said. “They don’t have passion. They don’t have commitment to working people. I never quit and never will, no matter what the polls, the newspapers and the corporations say.”

Other major speakers included Lee Saunders, National President of AFSCME, the union of public employees, Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown who addressed the group in a video. The convention adopted two dozen resolutions calling for such things as taxing Wall Street financial transactions, investing in the transportation infrastructure, improving the healthcare and public school systems, opposing privatization of the postal service, comprehensive immigration reform, strengthening the health care and retirement systems, protecting voting rights, restoring local government funds, fair trade and energy policies, and urging the Democratic Party to hold its 2016 national convention in Columbus, Ohio.

Following the convention, a Labor 2014 Summit was held where Burga and the state staff outlined specific plans to reach the nearly one million members of the federation, their families and neighbors through mailings and phone banks as well as face-to-face canvassing in neighborhoods and worksites.

Photo: “Support those who support us”- Nina Turner rocking the convention! Ohio AFL-CIO, Facebook.


Rick Nagin
Rick Nagin

Rick Nagin has written for People's World and its predecessors since 1970. He has been active for many years in Cleveland politics and the labor movement.