published 12 October 2012 updated 15 October 2012
written by:

AFT and NEA grassroots-level work

In addition to pouring more than $10.2 million into the campaign – more than any other union – NEA members defeated Issue 2 by hitting the streets, knocking on doors and phone banking. The Ohio Education Association (OEA), the NEA state affiliate, fielded the largest number of volunteers of any group or organisation working on the campaign, accounting for one out of every four volunteer canvassers. During the final weeks of the intense campaign, NEA deployed 177 staff members and resources from 22 states to help defeat Issue 2.

AFT members were also instrumental in the successful effort. The Ohio Federation of Teachers was a prominent partner in the state-wide coalition working to repeal the law. The phone bank of the Cleveland Teachers Union made well over 300,000 calls.

The campaign message was clear, concise and compelling: Issue 2 is unfair, unsafe and hurts us all.

The fight against Issue 2 proved to be an organising tool that helped to galvanise NEA and AFT members who had never before been involved in politics.

It also has provided a wake-up call and warning to politicians hoping to follow the footsteps of Governor Kasich.

AFT President Randi Weingarten stated: “The vote sends a clear signal that Ohioans will not sit idly by while politicians scapegoat hard-working public employees for an economic crisis they did not create.”

Van Roekel underlined: “Politicians will have to think twice before launching politically motivated and unfair attacks on public workers. There is a price to pay for turning your back on the middle class.”

The referendum on SB 5 occurred in the aftermath of a 2010 mid-term election that led to electoral success for a wave of Republicans at the federal level and in numerous state capitals across the country. Even in the early aftermath of the election, it was obvious that the new Republican leadership had an anti-labour agenda, and the immediate result was a power play that unleashed a string of attacks on workers’ rights.

Columbus, Ohio – along with Boise, Idaho; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Madison, Wisconsin – became Ground Zero in the fight to protect workers and, ultimately, the middle class.

The repeal of SB 5 resulted from an incredible grass-roots campaign that engaged citizens from all corners of the state. More than 10,000 volunteers collected 1.3 million signatures to place the issue on the ballot, and then worked tirelessly to make sure their families, friends and neighbours understood what was at stake. These volunteers knew that when teachers have a voice in the workplace, they are better advocates for children.

A direct threat to collective bargaining rights

Ohio’s SB 5 would have dramatically weakened the collective bargaining rights of public employees who worked for state, county and local governments, including school districts. It also would have eliminated totally the rights of public college and university faculty. The massive and far-reaching bill sought to end the rights of firefighters and police to resolve their contract bargaining disputes in binding arbitration, as well as the right to strike for all other public employees.

Following the introduction of SB 5, massive protests ensued as the bill worked its way through the legislative process. Two huge demonstrations, each in excess of 15,000 people, focused public attention on the bill’s harmful and unfair contents. Lawmakers retaliated by removing legislative members from key committees; locking voters out of the Ohio Statehouse and denying Ohioans their right to testify against the bill.

On the national level, SB 5 constituted a major strategic effort to de-fund American trade unions, particularly the four largest unions – the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), both affiliated to EI, as well as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees (AFSCME) – all of which represent public sector unions and comprise supportive resources, both financial and human, for America’s Democratic Party.

Citizens back unions up

In Ohio, voters reacted to the politically motivated attack by taking matters into their own hands.

They came together and formed “We Are Ohio,” a citizen-driven, community-based, bipartisan coalition to stop SB 5. The coalition of activists collected more than a million signatures to trigger a citizen veto process. The referendum, Issue 2, marked the first time in the history of the United States that the issue of protecting collective bargaining rights was posed to voters.

NEA President, Dennis Van Roekel, had said of the anti-labour, anti-worker legislation: “The labour movement and working Americans are under attack. It’s time to fight back against the coordinated and well-orchestrated effort to destroy collective bargaining and silence the voices of working men and women who fight fires, teach students, clean our schools, care for the elderly and infirm, and keep our streets safe.”

Issue 2 suffered an embarrassingly large defeat, losing 61.3 percent to 38.7 percent with a total turnout of approximately 3.5 million registered voters – breaking voter turnout records for an off-year election in recent years. Much of the credit for the defeat goes to organised labour, like OEA, that turned out members, as well as friends, family and neighbours in unprecedented numbers.

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