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Ohio voters’ resounding vote to repeal a law undermining public worker collective bargaining “sent a message that reverberated across the country: politicians should stop scapegoating workers and pushing extreme partisan agenda,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. “They need to instead work to create jobs for working people and commit to restoring balance to our economy.”
This “landmark struggle for the 99 percent,” according to Trumka, started in Wisconsin early this year and spread to other states, including collection of 1.2 million signatures to put a referendum on the ballot about Senate Bill 5, which Republican Gov. John Kasich had championed. Labor unions, partly working through a broad coalition called “We Are Ohio,” mobilized vigorously, spending $30 million (according to the Wall Street Journal) on a campaign that is likely to help Democratic prospects in Ohio next year.
A strong 57 to 43 majority of independents, who were key to Kasich’ election in 2010, joined an overwhelming 94 percent of Democrats in opposing SB 5, according to a survey of 1015 voters on both election day and in early balloting, undertaken for the AFL-CIO by Hart Research. Even 42 percent of liberal to moderate Republicans and 26 percent of 2010 Kasich voters said they voted “no” on Proposition 2 (the pro union rights position).
Not only did 86 percent of union members vote no, but also 52 percent of workers who were not union members voted for labor rights to bargain. Louise Foresman, a member of the AFL-CIO’s Working America in Cleveland, but not a union, opposed SB 5 because “the idea of [my friend, a fireman] not having input into his job was crazy” and unsafe. Although targeted to public employees, SB 5 “was an attack on all working people,” she said.
Other groups that voted ‘no’ heavily include blacks (93 percent) and voters from households with a public worker (73 percent). White non-college graduates, a pollster stand-in for the white working class, voted ‘no’ by 61 to 39 percent, according to Hart, somewhat more favorable towards unions than college grads (who voted ‘no’ by 54 to 46 percent).
White workers will be critical for both Obama and Democratic US Sen. Sherrod Brown next year. They should get a boost if they identify forcefully with the vote ‘no’ on 2 message and victory. Roughly half of all voters said Mitt Romney and Rick Perry’s support for Proposition 2 would make them less likely to vote for either if he became the Republican nominee for president (with less than a fifth saying it would make them more likely to vote for either man).
Since the pro-collective bargaining position won 61 to 49, it’s somewhat surprising that even more — 66 percent of voters Hart polled — said that public employees should be allowed to bargain collectively over wages, benefits and working conditions. Around half of all voters said SB 5 would have hurt wages for all workers, the middle class, public safety, job creation and the quality of education (compared to about a third who said the bill would have a positive effect).
Republicans have “overreached” politically with their attacks on public employees and their rights to unionize and bargain, Trumka said. “They thought they could do anything, and no one would care.” But as Tuesday’s vote made clear, a strong majority of swing-state Ohioans did care, about the rights of other workers and their own.
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David Moberg, a former senior editor of In These Times, was on staff with the magazine from when it began publishing in 1976 until his passing in July 2022. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy.