The Fight for Workers’ Rights Begins with Education About Collective Bargaining

The following is a guest post from one of our Cleveland activists.

As a newer activist with Working America I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first came to August’s Community Action Team meeting. What type of people would be involved? What education level? What age? I tried to picture them based on my own set of philosophical beliefs assuming they would be of similar mind. I was pleasantly surprised to find an amazing cross-section of individuals all with varying motivations to support such a good cause. Whether it was a loved one who’s job had been outsourced or a retiree worried about losing their pension; whatever the reasoning for the efforts, it all boils down to this for each of us: being involved is the right thing to do.

My situation is a little more unique than some: I AM in a union in the public sector, I HAVE seen cost of living increases in my salary, I AM provided with affordable health care. And despite the wake-up call that Senate Bill 5 provided for me last year, my personal motivation comes from a different perspective that is just as worrisome: I realized that many people don’t seem to understand the value of collective bargaining or a government that works for all.

How could someone who works hard for little pay, who does the jobs no one else wants to do, or who has no paid sick days  be a devoted follower of the political party that has been trying to destroy them for decades? I think it’s from two principles, held by them to be basic, but known by me to be false. One, they deserve all the prosperity they enjoy DESPITE unions and/or the government, i.e. the self-made man syndrome. And, two, now that they have a level of security, they believe everyone else is lazy and should fend for themselves, i.e. pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It is in this kinship of thinking with the republican candidate for president that they reside, and I don’t understand it – it clashes with my belief in an America that really and truly works for everyone.  Part of our job this election cycle is to take on the wave of disinformation spewed by those who believe they aren’t at risk and who vote against their own self-interest.

We have an expectation that politicians and the media will “call out” dishonesty; but do we exemplify that in our daily lives?  To remain silent only enables right-wing politicians and their corporate money to muddy the political waters further. Regardless of our motivations, we will all face very real consequences from the decisions made by our representatives in the Ohio State House and the U.S. Congress. Therefore, we should be willing to stand against deceitful tactics and lies wherever we encounter them. The fight is at our doorsteps whether we wanted it or not; and the fault will be ours if we aren’t voices of reason among all the noise.

That’s why I am proud to help out Working America, and stand side-by-side with the members I’ve met. It’s nice to be among people who share my perspective as we spend the next 40-something days working to keep President Obama and Senator Sherrod Brown in office. These elected officials truly represent working families, and we need them more than ever to keep fighting for us.  I hope you’ll join me by contacting Stephanie, the Cleveland Member Coordinator at 216-781-3032 or [email protected].

The Commonsense Job Creation Bill That Ohio Republicans Refuse to Take Up

As Mary Ann wrote earlier this week, our Ohio team has been focused on the Fair Districts amendment over the last few weeks. At the same time, we’ve also been taking on the big issue of outsourcing, and the impact it has on Ohioans.

You may be wondering how we got from redistricting to outsourcing. Well, it’s simpler than it may seem at first.

If we could get fair districts in Ohio drawn by an independent commission instead of politicians, and therefore have real and effective representation at the state and federal level, we will be able to hold politicians far more accountable on outsourcing and other issues key for working families. In short, to hold politicians accountable to working families, we need fair districts.

Until then, we have resolved to highlight important bills we hope our politicians will consider. One such piece of outsourcing-related legislation is H.B. 403, which would make sure state funds awarded to companies and people are spent on goods, services, and labor from the United States, whether the money is awarded via contract or through economic development assistance.

Sounds simple, right? After all, this is our tax money we’re talking about here, and yeah, it should be spent on goods and services made in the US. This is something our elected officials should be clamoring to support.

And yet…

The bill has been sitting in committee since it was introduced last December, waiting and waiting and waiting for the chairperson, Rep. Ron Young (R-Leroy Township) to decide to take it up. It’s as if my “I’m Just a Bill” disc was broken, so that it played the same line over and over. For some reason, this bill is stuck in committee with an unclear future.

What is the holdup?

After all, H.B. 403 would simply make sure the government spends our tax money wisely while supporting and strengthening U.S. jobs. And here in Ohio we could certainly use more jobs. Working families lose jobs and economic opportunities when corporations leave. It’s worse when companies move jobs elsewhere after they’ve been given tax breaks and other taxpayer subsidies to keep their headquarters here.

All of this outsourcing seems so clearly wrong to our members. In fact, our field team has been working diligently to talk with folks across Northeast Ohio about this issue. We’ve successfully collected photo petitions demanding that our politicians seriously tackle outsourcing by passing – or at least debating – H.B. 403 and other outsourcing bills. There’s no doubt that as we talk with folks in especially hard hit areas, their feelings of frustration about this issue are readily apparent.

It’s unconscionable that our elected officials in Ohio have yet to even hold a hearing on this bill, which addresses such an important issue for many Ohioans. Outsourcing doesn’t just affect the people who lose their jobs, although they obviously deserve a solution most of all, but it really affects the entire community and state. And our representatives should do something about it. Passing H.B. 403 would be a good start.

Want to join your fellow Ohioans and take a stand against outsourcing? Click here to become a Super Activist and get involved in this campaign.


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Fair Districts: The Most Important Item on the Ohio Ballot

The following is a guest blog post by Mary Ann Celaschi, a Cleveland Working America activist.

On Tuesday, Voters First Ohio turned in over 430,000 signatures – more than the 386,000 needed – to get an item on the November ballot reforming Ohio’s redistricting process.

I’ve spent the last month collecting these signatures, and I’m going to keep collecting to ensure that we have enough valid signatures. After all, this little-known initiative could be the most crucial item Ohioans vote on this fall.

The current system for redistricting in Ohio allows for blatant gerrymandering – a term for drawing districts that make sense for politicians maintaining power, but not for citizens. The most recent redrawing of district lines, really pointed out to me the need to have an independent commission be in charge of the process. Districts need to be competitive and they must keep communities together. To redistrict for political reasons is not fair to Ohioans.

That’s why I spent the last month circulating petitions every chance I got: I went to an art festival, stood outside a local freestanding Farmer’s Market, talked with folks heading to a Cleveland Indians game, worked the line outside an event for President Obama, and attended the Cleveland Pride Parade, each time armed with a smile and plenty of petitions.

In particular, my time at the Indians game and the market stand out to me. Not only do I love being out and about in the city, admiring its attractions, but I also appreciated the chance to bring this issue to everyday people who were eager to sign. Meshing the opportunity to talk about this redistricting initiative with the chance to experience my favorite things of Cleveland was priceless.

At each event, people offered an overwhelmingly positive response to this effort. Folks are happy to sign the petition – just taking a few moments to explain it to them is so worthwhile – and are looking forward to voting for it in November. Moreover, they are grateful for the chance to be a part of changing the redistricting process. I also spoke with a couple members from the League of Women Voters who mentioned they had been working on this issue for years, and who expressed appreciation that we are helping with this effort.

I know how they feel – I am so thankful to be part of this campaign, too. Even when folks don’t want to sign (which doesn’t happen often), I’m glad that I have the opportunity to at least educate them about this issue. I enjoy feeling part of something larger than myself, especially when that something – redistricting – is critical for the future of Ohio.

The icing on the cake was a meeting at the home of fellow activist Sylvia with other Working America members who had also been circulating petitions in other parts of the city. I was inspired to know that I’m not alone, and I was astonished by all the good people taking action for a change in the redistricting process. Their energy sustains me and makes me hopeful.

I am incredibly grateful that the canvasser from Working America came to the door a few months back. Signing up as a member and getting more involved has given me a wonderful feeling of being a citizen and engaging in democracy. This redistricting effort is multiplying that feeling tenfold. We can’t stop until we get this on the November ballot, and then we will definitely make sure it passes.

Please join me in this campaign! Contact Stephanie at 216-781-3032 or [email protected] if you’d like to sign a petition or circulate your own.

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Ohio HB 194 Tries to Turn Back the Clock on Voting Rights

The following is a guest post by Sylvia Bly, a Cleveland Working America member.

Recently, I went to a U.S. Senate field hearing in Cleveland about House Bill 194.  I heard arguments for and against HB 194, a bill that’s a real stinker to me. Its main objectives are to make it much harder to cast your vote, count fewer votes and remove local control for each county.

The courtroom was pretty formidable, but once the hearing started, I was transfixed on the due process I was witnessing.  This hearing went to the heart of the issue: HB 194 would impede voters from exercising their rights.  Listening to Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), our own Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH) was inspiring, but it also dredged up some memories of a time of great turmoil in our nation.

I remember when I was a young girl and Jim Crow laws were in place in the Southern states. Jim Crow laws, which existed until 1965, were all about a “separate but equal” status for African-Americans.  During the ‘60’s our nation was embroiled with civil unrest between those who wanted to keep minorities “in their place” with all the economic, educational and social inadequacies, while others fought to right these wrongs. I think about how my own mother was born a mere nine years after women won the right to vote. So now in Ohio and across the nation, we’re witnessing new legislation to turn back the clock and erase so much of the progress that’s been made to empower all of us to fully participate in our elections.

HB 194 was supposedly introduced to address voter fraud. But how come, when asked, none of the panelists in support of HB 194 could present a single documented case of such fraud?  That reinforced my suspicion that the real reason for HB 194 is voter suppression. If I had my say, any legislator who wants to introduce a bill that restricts my opportunities to vote should have to prove the need for these changes.  Otherwise whatever party is in office could finagle legislation in favor of their own party’s agenda.  That’s not democracy, people.

Abraham Lincoln said it best in the Gettysburg Address when he wrote that our government is a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Every provision in HB 194 is a huge step backward and undermines the very foundation of our Republic. I’m having such a difficult time comprehending how any legislator who takes an oath of office to ensure their constituents’ inalienable rights would work to get around not just the letter of the law, but more importantly, the spirit of the law. We pay their salaries with our tax dollars; these legislators are supposed to be working for us.

After Ohioans worked hard to gather over 300,000 signatures to put this bill to a vote, House Republicans voted to repeal HB 194. Not only did they prevent the people of our state from having their say, but the GOP also left in place provisions that eliminated voting the weekend before the election. Now it seems to me that if a bill is going to be repealed, it should be repealed in total.  I mean, wouldn’t it be nice to buy a CD, burn your favorite songs and return it?  That’s why return policies were written and are enforced. Meanwhile, our referendum is null and void. It’s amazing to me how our legislators have decided they have no rules and don’t have to answer to their own constituents.

I guess my fellow Working America members and I need to work even harder to make sure our elected officials in Columbus are listening to working families across the state. Join me and become a super activist in Ohio.

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Ohio Legislators Back Off Absurd Amusement Park Bill

Recently, I posted about House Bill 191, which would have limited the school year in Ohio from Labor Day to Memorial Day. You may recall that this proposal was the brainchild of amusement park lobbyists who care more about tourism and their profits than Ohio children’s education and future.

It was, to say the least, a laughable proposal, but one that launched Working America members into action: They gathered together to discuss the issue. They wrote letters to the editor to local papers, two of which were published – one was even published in two different papers, and one as a response to the first (letters in Akron Beacon Journal are the second from the top). And thanks to the incredible hard work of our field staff, they sent their local state legislators, including the main sponsor of the bill Rep. Bill Hayes (R-Harrison Township), hundreds of letters to express their dismay that tourism would be a higher priority for our elected officials than education.

All our activity appears to have paid off. The Columbus Dispatch reports that Rep. Hayes,

“dropped language that required school to start after Labor Day and wrap up before Memorial Day.”

And, according to StateImpact Ohio,

“all that remains is a bill that lets districts lengthen or shorten the school year as they see fit, within certain limitations, of course.”

Let’s be clear: the legislation isn’t in its final form, but it looks as though our efforts have led to a more rational decision – one that ensures our students will be in school, not running the Ferris wheel. And of course, we’re staying attentive, and will keep you posted on the status of the legislation.

For now though, we can all be grateful that our legislators seem to have heard our demand that kids remain in the classroom, and that we’re one step closer to a victory over corporate lobbyists. Plus, there’s still plenty of time left in the summer to take a ride on Millennium Force. (Not that I would ever do such a thing. Ever. Yikes.)

Photo of the Steel Dragon at Cedar Point by Altus on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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Not A Joke: Ohio Legislators Could Let Amusement Parks Set Education Policy

by Stephanie Harig – Cleveland, Ohio

Education seems to be popping up as a hot topic everywhere in Ohio. After Governor Kasich pushed through his radical agenda last year, including Senate Bill 5 which attacked our teachers, Ohioans have every reason to support education reform while being wary of proposals that deal with “education reform” – that is, policies that are sold as “reforms” when in fact they simply cater to corporate interests.

That wariness is definitely warranted with House Bill 191, which would shorten the school year. I will let that sink in for a second.

Okay. Yes, the legislation actually “prohibit[s] public schools from being open for instruction prior to Labor Day or after Memorial Day.” That could be about five weeks less than schools are currently open.

Who is behind this proposal? Hint: It’s not teachers! It’s actually corporate lobbyists – specifically for the amusement parks and tourism industry. They are more concerned with inexpensive child labor and their bottom line than with children getting a decent, adequate education.

Think this is a joke? I don’t blame you. There is general disbelief among the Ohioans we talk to at the doors that this bill could actually be a serious proposal (which it is), and that it would have enough support in the General Assembly to pass (which it does). But we can’t be fooled into thinking it won’t actually happen, because our Governor and legislature have shown they will stop at nothing to further a pro-corporate agenda at the expense of working families.

Fortunately, Working America members in the Greater Cleveland area recognize how detrimental HB 191 would be for our children and the future of our state, and they’re refusing to accept that this proposal is a done deal. We’ve collected hundreds of letters to State Representatives on the Education Committee, so they’re aware that their constituents are aghast at the idea that amusement parks would be allowed to set education policy. Our members are also writing letters to the editor to raise awareness about the bill and point out why this is bad education and labor policy.

On Wednesday, members from Lake County gathered in the home of Nancy Bihary and got down to business to mobilize against HB 191. We brainstormed all the myriad reasons this legislation is a bad idea, and began drafting individual letters to the editor on the issue. Nancy said:

“If anything our legislators should pass laws to improve education, not sabotage it. Three people like me took time out of our day to meet and plan a response to HB 191 to protect education in Ohio. Surely we represent the feelings of most of Ohioans, so our elected officials should take note.”

The seriousness of the proposal is best underscored through the story of Working America member April Sabol. Her work history is full of low-paying, dead-end jobs and periodic lay-offs, interspersed with attempts to improve her career prospects through education. She emphasized that she just wants her children to have a better future and that she believes education is the way to do that. (Incidentally, she also pointed out that even if her children’s summer vacation was longer, she couldn’t afford to take them to Cedar Point anyway.)

April’s story highlights the importance of a strong educational foundation in life, and that more time in the classroom – not less – is the beginning of a successful future.

House Bill 191 seems laughable, but if it passes it will be no laughing matter for working families trying to give their kids a better life, or for any Ohioan concerned about the economic future of our state.

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Working America Ohio Says Thanks to Occupy Cleveland

Stephanie Harig – Cleveland, Ohio

This is the time of year for being grateful, hopeful, and joyful—and Working America members in Ohio have been wholeheartedly participating by expressing their thanks and appreciation for the folks occupying public areas our cities, including Cleveland.

Occupy Cleveland has been maintaining a constant presence on Public Square for over two months. There is a dedicated group of individuals involved in occupying, but also working peacefully to prevent foreclosures in the Greater Cleveland area and participating in community events.

Working America stands with the 99 percent. But our members may not always be able to join these protests—so Ohioans are finding other ways to show that they appreciate the occupiers in Public Square.

Less than a month ago, offices across Ohio began collecting thank you notes to Occupy Cleveland by going door-to-door and making phone calls. The response was inspiring. On Saturday, Working America’s Cleveland office delivered over 200 such letters from around the state to Occupy Cleveland at a potluck event.

I attended the letter delivery with Jim, a Cleveland Working America member. After spending some time enjoying the food and interacting with Occupy Cleveland organizers, we presented the thank you notes to the group. We had put the notes in a binder, so they are able to flip through them when they are feeling discouraged, lonely, or just plain cold.

In addition to presenting the binder full of letters (to murmurs of disbelief that we had collected so many), I read a few of the most poignant ones from each office out loud. In one memorable letter, a single mom from Columbus expressed her support for Occupy because she recognized that they are addressing her day-to-day struggles. In another, Phyllis from Cleveland expressed her appreciation and ended by imploring the protestors to keep warm (important advice in a Cleveland winter!). Our members are genuinely grateful that someone is giving them a voice.

The letters were met with an overwhelming appreciation by the participants in Occupy Cleveland. Some were moved to tears, while others struggled to find the words to express how much the notes meant to them. After the presentation, they passed the binder around, and continued to express amazement at the fact that Working America had collected so many great letters. Indeed, this simple show of solidarity went a long way in boosting the morale of the organizers.

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