TAKE BACK OHIO moves to high gear

Labor walks fan out through a dozen cities in battleground state

CLEVELAND — “We’ve swung into high gear,” said Harriet Applegate, Cleveland area coordinator for Take Back Ohio, the effort by organized labor to oust key right-wing Republicans and elect pro-working-family Democratic candidates for governor, the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.

“Nearly 200 volunteers from unions in this area took part in the labor walk we held Saturday,” Applegate said. The volunteers, including union officials, rank and filers and family members, assembled Sept. 23 in the new apprenticeship training center of Laborers Local 310 to receive walking lists and instructions. They then fanned out into neighborhoods across Cuyahoga County to knock on doors of union households and members of Working America, the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate.

The volunteers left literature supporting Rep. Ted Strickland for governor and Rep. Sherrod Brown for U.S. Senate, and asked residents if they had made a decision in the races. The results showed overwhelming support for the labor-backed candidates. After walking for several hours, volunteers returned with their surveys and enjoyed a cookout.

That Saturday was the high point so far in the walks, which began in Cleveland Aug. 12 with about 40 volunteers. Applegate was especially pleased that the volunteers were coming both from unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO and those affiliated with the Change To Win coalition, showing that organized labor at the grassroots was closing ranks in the common fight to defeat its right-wing enemies.

Walks also took place in a dozen other cities and locations around Ohio, Applegate said.

Take Back Ohio aims to reach all 1.2 million labor and Working America households in the state through walks, phone banks, mailings and work site literature distributions. The purpose is to mobilize and educate union members through the structure of the labor movement, rather than through the campaigns of the candidates. The evidence from recent years, Applegate said, is that this is by far the most effective way to impact workers politically. Others note that it also builds labor’s independent political capacity.

According to Mike Reinecke, who coordinates the literature effort nationally from AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, already 2.4 million flyers have been distributed to every union in Ohio. Much of the literature is customized with the logos and phone numbers of each local and the issues of greatest concern to their members. Flyers issued in the name of building trades unions, for example, stress that Strickland’s opponent, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, has called for ending prevailing wage laws and union project labor agreements. He has bragged to the Association of Builders and Contractors that he is “the only ‘right-to-work’ candidate.”

Both Blackwell and Brown’s opponent, incumbent Sen. Mike DeWine, oppose raising the minimum wage, which will also be on the November ballot as an amendment to the state constitution.

According to the AFL-CIO, DeWine’s voting record is 90 percent anti-labor. He has supported the export of jobs overseas through corporate tax incentives and the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Brown fiercely opposed. NAFTA has cost Ohio nearly 50,000 jobs, the AFL-CIO says.

The contrast between the sides could not be greater. Brown and Strickland are co-sponsors of a bill to end anti-union provisions of federal labor law, and have voted with labor nearly 100 percent of the time during their terms in the Congress.

Take Back Ohio is keeping close tabs on weekly polls showing the union efforts are having a major impact. Statewide, Brown leads DeWine by a margin of 4-6 percent depending on the poll, and Strickland leads Blackwell by 12-21 percent. Among union households, both Brown and Strickland are leading by a margin of over two to one.

Indications are growing that the tide is turning throughout Ohio as polls show Republicans could lose House seats in Columbus and Cincinnati as well as the southeastern Ohio seat held by Rep. Bob Ney, who recently pled guilty to corruption charges.