Repealing SB 5: On the Verge of Victory in Ohio

Matt Muchowski October 26, 2011

SEIU Local 1199 members prepare to canvass door-to-door against Issue 2 on October 25 in Dayton, Ohio.

Two weeks before Elec­tion Day, a union can­vass­er says efforts to repeal the state’s new anti-union law through the bal­lot are pay­ing off

DAY­TON, OHIO — I tried to stay dry in the thun­der­storm. I would duck under porch­es, but quick­ly became drenched. My feet squished my wet socks as I tromped through mud­dy yards. My papers, a list of reg­is­tered vot­ers and fliers, became dif­fi­cult to read as the ink smudged.

This was the sec­ond day in a row that it rained while we were out­side knock­ing on doors and can­vass­ing, try­ing to repeal Sen­ate Bill 5, the anti-union law signed into law by Ohio Gov­er­nor John Kasich that makes Scott Walker’s bud­get repair” bill in Wis­con­sin look tame in com­par­i­son.

There are sim­i­lar­i­ties between the two pieces of leg­is­la­tion. Both were passed after Repub­li­cans seized con­trol of gov­er­nor­ships and state hous­es in the wake of the 2010 elec­tions. Both bills attempt to lim­it pub­lic employ­ees’ col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights. Both bills ban strikes by pub­lic employ­ees like teach­ers and strip unions of the abil­i­ty to col­lect auto­mat­ic dues deduc­tions from mem­bers. Both bills aim to make pub­lic employ­ees pay more out of pock­et for their pen­sion and healthcare. 

But there are big dif­fer­ences: In Wis­con­sin, the bill spared fire­fight­ers and police. Ohio’s SB 5 would pre­vent fire­fight­er and police unions, which are already pro­hib­it­ed from strik­ing or join­ing broad­er labor fed­er­a­tions, from nego­ti­at­ing over train­ing, staffing lev­els and equip­ment. Per­haps most extreme, SB 5 would allow local gov­ern­ments to impose a final offer” that pub­lic employ­ee unions would not have legal recourse to appeal.

As soon as the SB 5 was pro­posed in Ohio, unions and sup­port­ers protest­ed out­side the state­house in Colum­bus. But unlike in Wis­con­sin, there were no leg­is­la­tors who left the state. Even if all the Democ­rats left, the Repub­li­cans would have still had a quo­rum. There were no state house occu­pa­tions, like in Madison.

And things have been dif­fer­ent after the bills became law.

While orga­niz­ers in Wis­con­sin attempt­ed to turn the pop­u­lar rage against Scott Walk­er into recall elec­tions that would replace Repub­li­cans who vot­ed for the bill with Democ­rats who would fight to repeal it, orga­niz­ers in Ohio began to col­lect sig­na­tures in order to put Sen­ate Bill 5 on the bal­lot for vot­ers to repeal it them­selves.

After col­lect­ing more than 1.3 mil­lion sig­na­tures, Sen­ate Bill 5 was cer­ti­fied to appear on the Novem­ber 2011 bal­lot as Issue 2, where vot­ers will have to respond to the ques­tion, Shall the Law be Approved?” A labor and com­mu­ni­ty based coali­tion, We Are Ohio, began to recruit can­vassers and phone bankers to encour­age vot­ers to Vote No on Issue 2” in order to reject the law and repeal Sen­ate Bill 5.

In Ohio, the polls ini­tial­ly showed a large num­ber opposed to the sen­ate bill. One poll showed 54 per­cent of vot­ers sup­port­ed repeal (a no” vote), while only 31 per­cent planned to vote yes” to enact the bill.

With no way to con­vince the major­i­ty of Ohioans to vote against teach­ers, fire­fight­ers and police offi­cers, a pro-busi­ness group, Build­ing a Bet­ter Ohio set out to con­fuse them.

Ads start­ed air­ing say­ing that a yes” vote would save fire­fight­ers jobs. And, dis­turbing­ly, Build­ing a Bet­ter Ohio took video of a grand­moth­er from a Vote No ad and cut it in a way to make it seem as though she was encour­ag­ing a Yes vote. 

Vot­ers I spoke with at their doors told me about their con­fu­sion. They would talk about Issue 5,” and I’d have to cor­rect them by inform­ing them that Sen­ate Bill 5 is on the bal­lot as Issue 2. Many had signed the peti­tion to repeal Sen­ate Bill 5, but were uncer­tain whether to vote Yes or No on Issue 2.

A poll from few weeks ago showed the race tight­en­ing, with the num­ber who want­ed to reject the bill falling to 50 per­cent.

How­ev­er a new poll shows that oppo­nents of the new leg­is­la­tion now have a 25-point lead among vot­ers: 57 per­cent sup­port repeal, while 32 per­cent do not. Edu­cat­ing vot­ers is pay­ing off.

There has been a seri­ous effort by my union, the Ser­vice Employ­ees Inter­na­tion­al Union, to get new vot­ers reg­is­tered and to get infre­quent vot­ers to the polls. I have helped 90-year-olds sign up to receive bal­lots in the mail and helped reg­is­ter stu­dents on their 18th birth­day.

With less than two weeks until the elec­tion, the Vote No effort is piv­ot­ing toward the final GOTV (Get Out The Vote) effort: remind­ing peo­ple with absen­tee bal­lots to mail them in, ask­ing vot­ers to plan their elec­tion day sched­ule, and clear­ing up any last minute con­fu­sion. If we con­tin­ue to edu­cate Ohio res­i­dents and vot­ers about Sen­ate Bill 5 and remind them to Vote No on Issue 2, then Elec­tion Day — Novem­ber 8, 2011 — could be the day anti-union leg­is­la­tors around the coun­try real­ize that if you strip work­ers of col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights, they will fight back.

Matt Muchows­ki works for Ser­vice Employ­ees Inter­na­tion­al Union

Matt Muchows­ki works for Ser­vice Employ­ees Inter­na­tion­al Union and enjoys defeat­ing anti-union leg­is­la­tion. He lives in Chica­go and for a brief but mem­o­rable time was asso­ciate pub­lish­er of In These Times.
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