Photo Caption: Hundreds show up for anti-S.B. 5 solidarity rally Saturday in Gallipolis.
An estimated 1,500 people from multiple southeast Ohio counties braved the damp and chill in Gallipolis Saturday afternoon to hear politicians and organizers urge them to get out the vote and overturn Ohio Senate Bill 5. The controversial state law, passed earlier this year, limits collective-bargaining rights for public-sector unions.
(To view our photo gallery on the rally, go here.)
Speakers included, notably, a sitting Republican state senator – whose stated reservations about S.B. 5 prompted his party leadership to yank him off a key committee just before the vote on the bill took place in February.
Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, told a crowd at the Gallia County Junior Fairgrounds – whose members included Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl and City Council member Christine Fahl – that he continues to believe the law destroys the good faith between labor and management that's needed to achieve fair contracts.
"We may need changes (in the law), but we don't need a race to the bottom," Seitz said. "And that's what S.B. 5 is going to give us... I'm ready to lead the charge for legal and fair reforms. But we don't need to get run over by a bus to build a better Ohio."
(This last was probably in reference to a comment by Gov. John Kasich earlier this year to the effect that his critics can either "get on the bus" with his policies, or be run over by it.)
Seitz was especially scathing about a provision in S.B. 5 that eliminates binding arbitration.
If labor and management come to an impasse, under S.B. 5 the government entity has the authority to choose between the union's "last best offer" and its own – an arrangement that Seitz likened to "going to divorce court and finding out your wife's father is the judge."
Seitz stressed his belief that some GOP legislators behind S.B. 5 are extremists, willing to trigger a "needless war" between the state and its employees. He urged the crowd to bear in mind that when he, a long-term conservative Republican state legislator, dared to speak out against the bill, his party threw him under the proverbial bus.
"If that's what they can do to me, one of their own, what are they going to do to you when S.B. 5 passes?" he asked the crowd.
Supporters of S.B. 5 say it's needed to rein in state and local government and school district spending, and that its negative effects on bargaining rights are being hysterically overstated by its critics.
DEMOCRATIC U.S. SEN. Sherrod Brown, however, told the audience members they need to realize S.B. 5 is a blatant attempt to bust their unions.
"I want you to take it personally," implored Brown. "They're going after your standard of living."
After S.B. 5 passed in February, critics of the bill quickly organized a campaign to repeal it at the ballot box. It eliminates collective bargaining for such things as workplace safety, staffing levels, health-care benefits and pension pickups.
Some 1.3 million Ohioans signed a petition to put the measure on the ballot, and it will come up for a vote in November. A "no" vote on Issue 2 is a vote to repeal S.B. 5.
Brown said he believes that to overturn the law, all the public-sector workers affected by it need to preach against it constantly for the next 38 days to friends, family, church members and "everybody on your Christmas card list."
The senator warned that though the anti-S.B. 5 faction has the numbers, the other side has more money, and will use it to distort the issue in a torrent of ads (some of which are already running). He reiterated that the only way to counter this is by constant, grassroots proselytizing.
"Talk to every single person you know who listens to you," he urged. "People will listen to you, because you have the expertise about this issue... It's up to us to save the middle class in this state, and don't forget, everybody in the country is watching."
FORMER U.S. REP. Charlie Wilson, a Democrat who represented Ohio's 6th Congressional District before being ousted by Republican Bill Johnson last November, told the crowd members they need to get fired up.
"Are you angry?" he demanded. "Are you really angry? Are you ready to fight back? This is the time that we've got to stand up."
Wilson lamented the outcome of last November's elections in Ohio, which put the Republicans largely in control of the state Legislature and ousted Dems from Congress including himself – an outcome he said was "directly related to our (low) voter turnout... If we had Ted Strickland in the governor's mansion right now, we wouldn't be here!"
PAM SMITH, A teacher at Westville Elementary in Jackson and an official of the Ohio Education Association, the main teachers' union in Ohio, said she's been negotiating contracts for over three decades, and was doing so before the state's current collective-bargaining laws were in place.
"I didn't like it then, and I'm sure as hell not going to like it now, if we have to go back to that," she declared. "I am sick and tired of being treated the way we've been treated."
Even the second-graders she teaches, Smith suggested, understand more about fairness than the architects of S.B. 5.
"You don't cut in line, and you don't cut people off at the knees," she said. She called S.B. 5 "part of a national war against teachers, and teachers' associations." Those behind it, she suggested, "ought to be placed in the corner themselves, dunce cap and all."
BABE ERDOS, AN official of the United Mine Workers, stressed that while S.B. 5 affects only public-sector unions, private-sector unions like UMWA are deeply disturbed by its implications, and are devoting considerable human resources to the campaign to repeal it.
This is partly in atonement, he suggested, for failing to get out the vote for Democrats like Strickland and Wilson last election.
"Last year, we as labor, we sat on our butts," he said. "And come election night everything showed; we got what we deserved."
Arguing that S.B. 5 "tears at the very fabric of organized labor," he promised to fight against it "as long as I have breath in my body... We are going to stand in lockstep and solidarity (with public unions) until we defeat this."
ALSO SPEAKING AT the rally were former Gov. Strickland and state Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Athens, who alleged that S.B. 5 "is designed to break the back of labor," which tends to support Democratic candidates financially. "They are working toward a permanent Republican majority," she suggested.
The day's youngest speaker was Michael Letson, just a few weeks short of his 10th birthday. Letson, whose mother is a state employee, told a reporter after the rally that S.B. 5 "does not create one job! It eliminates jobs!"