Thousands Rally in Columbus to Stop Anti-Union Bill
Thousands of workers, mostly public employee union members but also from the private sector, rallied at the Capitol in Columbus, Ohio, Thursday to stop a senate bill that would end public workers’ collective bargaining rights.
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The proposed law would take away public employees’ right to strike and make them pay 20 percent of their health care costs. Teachers would lose automatic step increases. The bill would end binding arbitration to resolve deadlocks in union-management negotiations. Republican Governor John Kasich ran on this anti-worker program.
The 4,000 to 5,000 protesters, chanting and waving signs, overflowed and spilled out of the Capitol building, which could not contain them. On the streets they confronted and eclipsed about 200 Tea Party activists in red shirts who had come to support the legislation. While some in the groups shouted at each other, there was no physical confrontation.
“I’ve never seen so many people standing together. It was shoulder to shoulder—I couldn’t move,” said Nick Perry, a UPS worker and Teamster Local 413 steward. “Whenever legislators said, ‘We don’t have the money,’ people would chant, ‘Liar, liar, liar.’”
Activists point to years of tax cuts and welfare showered on corporations and the rich.
“Proponents said that the people affected by this bill weren’t here today—they were the taxpayers who were at home,” Perry said. “We chanted, ‘We pay taxes, too.’”
Debbie Bindas of AFSCME Council 8 told the press, “Only 9 percent of the state budget is for public employees. If every state worker was laid off, it would save $2 billion per year, but there still would be a $6 billion budget hole. Not to mention a severe lack of public services.”
“'Public employees,” she said, “touch every aspect of our life, from treating the water we use to make our morning coffee to inspecting the restaurants where we eat on the weekends.”
All the Public Employee Unions
The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, AFSCME Local 11, was one of the principal organizers of the demonstration. It represents 35,000 state employees, all except those in the public universities and colleges. AFSCME Council 8, representing city, state, township, and health workers, also turned out its members.
Other workers were turned out by the Communications Workers, who represent workers at Ohio State University.
Teachers from both the Ohio Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Ohio Education Association (NEA) were there. Teamsters were also in the crowd, as were others from labor-community-student alliances such as the Defend Ohio campaign.
Mark Sanders, president of the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters, said changes in the collective bargaining law might be needed, but this was not the way to go. “It is our fear that his legislation will destroy 27 years of public safety labor peace,” he said. “Collective bargaining has been the only means for firefighters to gain safety standards.”
Dan La Botz is the author of Labor Notes' A Troublemaker's Handbook 1. He lives in Cincinnati.