A year ago, in one of the most shocking reversals in the state’s history, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a “right to work” bill into law behind closed doors as more than 12,000 protesters raged outside.
Well, not nothing. But what anti-worker pundits said would be a domino effect was more like a cricket effect. In 2013, no state passed a “right to work” law.
Incorrectly-named “right to work” laws put restrictions on contracts union workers can make with employers. They ban fair share clauses which require that workers pay dues to have the protection of the union. Unions are left in the position of providing services without being able to fund those services, and they starve.
“Right to work” laws have nothing to do with freedom. They are simply a tactic to defund unions and weaken the ability of workers to advocate for themselves. And it shows: states with “right to work” laws have lower wages, higher poverty rates, and more workplace injuries and fatalities than free bargaining states.
In 2013, workers didn’t stand for it.
In Missouri, where Republicans controlled supermajorities in both the state House and Senate, some legislators pursued a “paycheck deception” bill, which restricts unions’ ability to make political contributions. Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) called it a step toward a “right to work law.” Based heavily on an ALEC model bill, paycheck deception moved swiftly through Republican-lead committees.
But workers, union and non-union (including hundreds of Working America members), made their voices heard. Emails, letters, and phone calls flooded legislative offices in Jefferson City. The bill passed the Senate after an 8-hour Democratic filibuster, but House legislators were getting skittish. Bill proponents were having a hard time answering simple questions about why additional restrictions on union dues were needed. Support for the bill dwindled with each test vote.
“Paycheck deception” passed the House by a narrower than expected margin, and Speaker Jones prepared to move on to “right to work.” But Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed paycheck deception, calling it unnecessary. By the September veto session, too many moderate Republicans had abandoned the effort, and the bill died outright.
In Ohio, the anti-union effort has centered around gathering petitions to get “right to work” on the 2014 ballot. As we know, you need to get a certain number of signatures to get an issue on the ballot. For Ohio, that number is 385,000, and you always want extra signatures in case some are validated.
The Tea Party group Ohioans for Workplace Freedom started circulating petitions in February 2012. After 20 months, they announced they have collected 100,000 signatures.
Let’s compare that with 2011, when Gov. John Kasich and Republicans in the legislative rammed through the union-busting Senate Bill 5. The bill passed on March 30. On June 29, after only 3 months, We Are Ohio delivered 1.3 million signatures to the Secretary of State to get a repeal of SB 5 on the ballot. In November, SB 5 was repealed by 60 percent of voters.
What’s going on here? What the Tea Party and the anti-union forces in Ohio don’t get is that once you get past a small group of billionaires and right-wing ideologues, there is no desire to restrict collective bargaining in Ohio. None. People are looking for good jobs, affordable health care, and decent schools to send their kids.
Meanwhile, the 2011 battle over Senate Bill 5, largely ignored by the national media, still reverberates throughout the Buckeye State. Treasurer Josh Mandel, a Republican supporter of SB 5, lost a Senate bid despite more than $19 million in outside aide. Mitt Romney haplessly flip-flopped on SB 5 and consistently delivered an anti-union message, lost in Ohio in part because of union members of all political stripes voting for his opponent. And in 2013, SB 5 supporter Toledo Mayor Mike Bell was ousted, while a Tea Party-backed pension-cutting amendment was rejected in Cincinnati by a 57-point margin.
In Oregon, the story is even shorter. An Portland attorney named Jill Gibson Odell is sponsoring a “right to work” initiative in her state. Odell is excited about the “national money to be had” to assist her campaign, so she’s not even pretending “right to work” is something Oregonians themselves want. In 2013, little to no progress was made on getting the issue on the ballot, and popular Gov. John Kitzhaber said he will publicly oppose it. Meanwhile, workers in Portland got paid sick days, and a statewide sick leave ordinance is expected to pass in 2014.
What to expect in 2014? Well, as the AP reports, the main targets for “right to work” proponents are Missouri, Ohio, and Oregon, showing that these folks have learned nothing from the past year. While their efforts stall, Americans of all political persuasions are starting to support minimum wage increases, sick leave, wage theft protections, and progressive tax codes in increasing numbers.
Working America will be vigilant to mobilize against any “right to work” measure, wherever it crops up. But make no mistake: Michigan wasn’t the start of a domino effect. It was a wake up call. And outside the right-wing think tank bubble, American workers are fully awake.
Making up that huge gap, exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis, is nearly impossible in 10 years. That’s the point: Issue 4 was a barely concealed attempt to force cuts to public services in Cincinnati, and generally pit the city’s citizens against the workers who make it run.
The city is already taking steps to address the $872 million liability in a number of ways–and as with most cities, the public workers themselves are bearing the brunt. Issue 4 would have put those changes on steroids, and would have lead to either tax increases or cuts to public safety and city services: closed firehouses, slower emergency response times, and staffing shortages when we need help the most.
It’s no wonder then that opposing Issue 4 united unlikely allies: the Chamber of Commerce, AFSCME, firefighters, and the editorial board of the right-leaning Cincinnati Enquirer. “Today’s vote will be heard beyond Cincinnati and sends a message for those on the ideological extremes who think it is ok to impose their agenda on an entire city,” said Peter Linden of AFSCME Ohio Council 8, “Had this passed, outside money and political extremists would have cost Cincinnati taxpayers more money, with less services.”
It’s been two years since Ohio voters of all political stripes overturned Gov. John Kasich’s Senate Bill 5, which stripped collective bargaining from over 300,000 public workers. It’s been one year since Ohio voters chose pro-worker Senator Sherrod Brown over the Tea Party-affiliated Josh Mandel. Since that time, the effort to get a so-called “right to work” on the 2014 Ohio ballot has faltered, collecting less than a third of the signatures needed in 20 months.
It’s time that the corporate-backed anti-worker forces in Ohio get it through their heads that Ohioans are interested in more jobs and a stronger economy; not fewer rights at work, fewer public services, and attacks on the workers who are already making the most sacrifices.
Here’s the other thing: the group has been collecting signatures for since February 2012. That’s 20 months.
As the Ohio political observers at Plunderbund point out, at this rate they would need “another 40 months” to qualify for the ballot. “The longer the process takes, the more likely they are to receive duplicate signatures,” writes Plunderbund’s Joseph Mismas, “At this rate, Ohioans could vote to make Hillary Clinton the next president of the United States before we ever get a chance to vote on another anti-union measure in Ohio.”
Let’s compare this effort with a similar project two years ago.
That bill passed on March 30, 2011. Only three months later, on June 29, 2011, pro-worker groups delivered nearly 1.3 million signatures to Columbus. Over 915,000 were found to be valid by the Secretary of State’s office. In November, two years ago this month, Ohioans voted overwhelmingly to repeal Senate Bill 5.
The fact is, the majority of Ohioans are looking for policies improve their lives: investments in education, strengthening the safety net, and creating good, family-sustaining jobs. In every state they have been enacted, “right to work” laws result in lower wages, fewer people with health insurance, more people living in poverty, and more workplace injuries and fatalities.
2011’s massive rejection of attacks on workers and the 2012 defeat of anti-worker candidates like Josh Mandel and Mitt Romney haven’t phased the folks at Ohioans for Workplace Freedom. But if losing elections and lack of interest in their narrow ideological agenda doesn’t cause them to change course, maybe their balance sheets will: according to latest reports, the group has spent over $118,187 on petition circulators since July. Do they really want to spend that kind of cash on a lost cause for another 40 months?
The following is a guest post from U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
This is a big moment for Ohio. On Tuesday you showed the entire country that we won’t accept attacks on Ohio’s middle class.
After months of gathering petition signatures, going door to door, making phone calls, and talking to your friends and neighbors you have defeated the special interests and overturned Senate Bill 5.
You showed shadowy out of state special interest groups who poured millions into Ohio on attack ads against Ohio’s working families that we don’t accept dirty political tricks and misinformation campaigns.
From the emergency room nurse in Cleveland to the firefighter in Zanesville to the teachers in Cincinnati, Akron, and Chillicothe—our public workers deserve a voice. They deserve a seat at the table when it comes to their safety, working conditions, to their benefits, and livelihoods. Thanks to you, they will still have those rights.
I thank you for all your hard work. But I do have an important message: don’t stop now.
Already those same right wing front groups are readying their millions to go after those of us who stood with you during this fight and Ohio will be one of their favorite targets. They’re going to come after us because we want to create jobs, protect Medicare and Social Security, and rebuild Ohio’s manufacturing base by standing up to China.
But let me tell you this. Because of what you did in Ohio, first by gathering 1.3 million signatures and then turning out in huge numbers to vote No on Issue 2, they are starting to listen.
And that’s why I ask you: don’t stop now.
Make your voice heard. Tell your elected officials that in Mansfield, you want good paying jobs. Tell them that in Cincinnati, construction workers shouldn’t wait in unemployment lines while schools and bridges need rebuilding. Tell them that Social Security checks for seniors in Akron are more important than tax loopholes for Wall Street and Big Oil.
And in one loud voice, tell extremists in Columbus to get their hands off your right to vote!
I would like to thank the members of Working America, the largest organization for working people in Ohio, for all that they have done in this fight, and I will continue to stand for all of Ohio workers, as I have done my whole career.
We’re beyond happy about the results of the Ohio vote on collective bargaining rights, as Issue 2 fell and Senate Bill 5 was repealed by a 28-point margin. But unfortunately, an even bigger majority of Ohioans voted yes on Issue 3, an attack on the Affordable Care Act that has dangerous unintended consequences for the Buckeye State’s health care system.
Also known as the “Health Care Freedom Amendment,” Issue 3 was put on the ballot by Tea Party activists who wanted to express their anger at the health care reform bill passed last year. It adds an amendment to the Ohio Constitution that says “no federal, state, or local law shall compel, directly or indirectly, any person, employer of health care provider to participate in a health care system.”
Maybe if the Tea Partiers spent less time talking about the U.S. Constitution and more time reading it, they would notice that Article VI gives federal law precedence over state law; so legally, Issue 3 is merely symbolic rejection of the Affordable Care Act. However, there exist other systems that rely on compulsory participation in a health care system: Workers compensation, COBRA, child support enforcement orders, school immunizations, and college-coverage requirements.
Other policies Ohioans rely on require the submission of health care data or information, which under Issue 3’s sloppy language are illegal: disease tracking, children’s medical records, court-ordered rehabilitation, and tax levies that raise funds for health-related programs.
When Issue 3 passed by a huge margin on Tuesday, how many people knew what they were voting for? More litigation, more paper work, and a possible invalidation of workers compensation and COBRA?
The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, which endorsed Issue 2 but rejected Issue 3, describes the newly passed constitutional amendment as a “time bomb.”
Part of that doubtless was Issue 3′s innocuous ballot language that purported to guarantee “freedom” to make health care choices. Everyone loves freedom. But the fine print on Issue 3 actually ties the hands of Ohioans to craft state-level reforms. Even worse, it guarantees uncertainty and litigation because its language appears to limit the state’s ability to act on almost any issue that involves health care or insurance.
Republican leaders in Ohio, however, are highlighting only the political significance of the vote. Ohio GOP Chairman Kevin Dewine gleefully told The Daily Record that “our formal rejection of Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement only further underscores the uphill battle the president and Sherrod Brown presently face on their path to reelection in 2012.”
In Ohio as well as Washington, the priorities of Republican and Tea Party leaders are clear: political victory in 2012. The wave of litigation costs and complications that will fall of the shoulders of working Ohioans be damned.
Cincinnati Fire Fighter (IAFF) Doug Stern says yesterday’s overwhelming rejection of Gov. John Kaisch’s (R) attempt to eliminate collective bargaining rights of workers like fire fighters, nurses, teachers, bridge inspectors and others shows:
the citizens of Ohio spoke and they made it loud and clear that the focus of government should be on creating sustainable middle class jobs, rather than pushing a partisan political agenda.
Stern, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Louise Foresman, a member of Working America from Cleveland, took part in a telephone press conference this afternoon about the stunning victory for working families that sent Issue 2 down to a 61 percent to 39 percent defeat. Says Trumka:
Last night the people of Ohio—from autoworkers to teachers and firefighters to jobless workers—sent a message that will reverberate across the country: politicians need to stop scapegoating workers and pushing an extreme partisan agenda. They need to instead work to create jobs for working people and commit to restoring balance to our economy.
The Ohio victory, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the earlier uprising in Wisconsin and other battles across the nation show, says Trumka, that working families are fighting back against, “the dramatic overreach of many politicians in Ohio and across country. “
Working people will continue to raise their voices. The 99 percent who didn’t get rich while wrecking the American economy have decided to stand up for ourselves and demand a fair share.
Foresman, who works in a non-unionized workplace, says she believed Issue 2 was an
attack on all working people…Our governor is fond of saying that “A rising tide lifts all boats”…But what he was proposing would have lowered all boats…our boats can’t afford anymore holes. A lot of people who voted against Issue 2 are not unionized.
Polling by Hart Associates for the AFL-CIo backs her up. It shows that non-union voters opposed Issue 2 by a 52 to 48 percent margin. In addition, moderate voters voted “No” by a 70 percent to 30 percent edge and independent voters lined up against Issue 2 by 57 percent to 43 percent. Overall, voters polled say they believe public employees should have collective bargaining rights by a 66 percent to 27 percent.
The Ohio victory “matters everywhere,” says Trumka.
What you can take away from yesterday is that working people, the 99 percent, are standing up to corporate CEO’s to say, “Enough.”
Voters elsewhere also cast their ballots against Republican overreach, including in Arizona, where citizens recalled Russell Pearce, the Republican president of the state senate known who drafted the state’s extreme anti-immigrant law. In Maine, voters repealed a new law enacted by state Republicans to end a 40-year state tradition of allowing people to register the same day as voting. In Kentucky, state Senate President David Williams—a “clone” of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—was easily defeated by incumbent Gov. Steve Beshear (D).
For political newcomers, here’s what you need to know: the good guys won.
Not only did we win. We won big. We won in friendly territory and difficult terrain. And the credit for our victories belongs firmly to the working men and women – union and non-union alike – who were fighting for their rights, their jobs, their values, and their future.
When John Kasich was sworn in as Ohio’s Governor at the beginning of this year, he didn’t immediately focus on job creation, as he had promised during the 2010 campaign. Instead, he launched a full scale attack on the rights of Ohio’s teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other public workers. Senate Bill 5 was signed into law, restricting the collective bargaining rights of over 350,000 workers in Ohio.
What happened next was incredible. Working Ohioans joined petition drives all across the state to get a repeal of Senate Bill 5 on the November ballot. Among them were Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, and moderates who were outraged over Kasich’s overreach and callousness toward the working people of the Buckeye State; the idea that public workers should serve as an ATM while corporations saw tax reductions offended them. Many police officers and firefighters who traditionally voted for Republicans joined the effort against SB 5; they knew that public safety workers, not politicians, know best about the staff and equipment they need to protect Ohio’s communities.
John Kasich’s allies, including the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, and a host of other shadowy out-of-state groups, poured millions into Ohio to protect Senate Bill 5. They tried every dirty trick in the book. But in the end, Issue 2 was defeated by a massive 21 point margin. In fact, more people voted to repeal Senate Bill 5 than to elect Governor Kasich. We’ll have more on what this Ohio victory means later today.
In June, Maine Governor Paul LePage signed LD 1376, which banned the practice of registering to vote on Election Day. Same-day registration had been in place in Maine for 38 years without any problems, but backers claimed it would “cut down on election day mistakes,” and “cuts down on voter fraud.” Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster was less subtle, saying same-day registration allowed Democrats to “intentionally steal elections.” Did Webster fail to notice Maine’s two Republican U.S. Senators and Republican Governor? This was just another attack in the nationwide war on voting rights, which has spread to Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, and many other states.
Luckily a collection of organizations including the Maine People’s Alliance and Working America formed Protect Maine Votes, and gathered 70,000 signatures to restore same-day registration. Question 1 on yesterday’s ballot passed by a wide margin, with nearly 60 percent of the vote. With last nights victory, the people of Maine have started the fight back against the war on voting.
Why does this matter? County Executives often become candidates for statewide office. The Democratic candidate for governor in 2010, Dan Onorato, was Allegheny County Executive. In Wisconsin, a certain Mr. Scott Walker held the seat of Milwaukee County Executive from which he launched his gubernatorial campaign.
It’s what Chris Savage calls “the little recall that could.” Of all the races last night, it was the recall of anti-teacher Michigan Rep. Paul Scott that faced the steepest climb.
Paul Scott is the kind of politician we all wish we could remove from office: Ambitious, ideological, and a outspoken opponent of his state’s teachers and teachers’ union. His attacks on education as the Chair the House Education Committee lead to a grassroots campaign to unseat him. Of the 47 attempts to recall Michigan legislators this year, only Paul Scott’s succeeded.
Iowa has a Republican Governor and a rabidly conservative House. The lower chamber in Iowa has passed measures attacking the state healthcare system, making huge cuts in education, and restrictions in collective bargaining rights.
It started in Wisconsin with a rejection of an assault on workers’ rights and carried on throughout this fall with the energy of the 99% on display all across the country. With tonight’s defeat of Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s anti-worker legislation SB-5, our country is turning the corner on the attack on working families and the 99%. This is a confirmation that the people of Ohio, whether union or nonunion, whether Democrat or Republican, overwhelmingly support the fundamental right of workers to have a say in their working conditions.
The defeat of SB-5 is a victory for all working people– from Lancaster to Toledo, Canton to Cincinnati –who were part of a massive grassroots effort to overturn this bill. Working America organizers, members and volunteers visited the homes of nearly 400,000 working class people across Ohio. Members, who don’t have a union on the job, sent thousands of emails and letters to lawmakers and their local news media, friends and neighbors, all in an effort to protect jobs and democracy by shutting down this legislation.
Tonight, Ohioans showed that scapegoating teachers, firefighters and other public sector workers won’t work, and that the 99 percent want politicians who work for them. Anything else, they will reject.
Tonight at the ballot box, clearly and loudly, they did just that.
Talk show and radio host Ed Schultz broadcasted live from the Ohio Professional Firefighters in Columbus, Ohio last night, backed by an enormous crowd. Ed devoted the grand majority of his show to discussing Senate Bill 5, on the ballot as Issue 2, and was frequently by cheers from the throng behind him, many waving “No On 2” signs.
The clip above features big names like AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and former Governor Ted Strickland. Later in the show, Ed spoke to local union leaders, including Sean Grayson of AFSCME Council 8. Ed played the now widely circulated comments of Ohio Rep. Lou Blessing, who said that public workers deserve a pay cut and Republican legislators don’t; Blessing snidely added “I earn my pay.”
Collective bargaining works. Collective bargaining has worked in this state since 2008. Public servants in this state have given back to taxpayers over $8 billion in losses in pay and benefits, in unpaid furlough days and increases in health care costs. They know that Ohio is hurting and they have sacrificed. What this comment says is “we don’t have to sacrifice.”
Public employees are not an ATM machine. You can’t keep going back to their wallets time and time again and expect them to keep being able to perform their jobs.
That’s what makes this vote on Issue 2 so important. It treats workers – in this case public workers like firefighters and teachers – as commodities, not people. It treats their pensions, wages, and benefits like a piggy bank that politicians like Gov. Kasich can continue to dip into to fund what they please; be it highway privatization, tax breaks, or whatever their wealthy donors desire.
But what Kasich and the folks at Building A Better Ohio don’t understand is that their view of Middle Class workers as a source of cash for pet projects doesn’t resonate outside of the 0.1 percent bubble. What they don’t get is that people above all want fairness for their friends, neighbors, and family members. That’s why ultimately they’ll lose.
Here in Ohio, we are naturally focused almost exclusively on defeating Issue 2, which as you well know by now is the ballot referendum on Senate Bill 5, the legislation that removed the collective bargaining rights of Ohio’s public workers. By voting No on Issue 2, we reject Senate Bill 5.
We are now one week from Election Day and the efforts are only continuing to ramp up. By next Tuesday, some of our canvassers will have worked 16 out of the last 17 days leading up to the election. In addition, we have been bringing Working America members out to volunteer phone bank multiple times a week.
On Monday, we had the opportunity to bring our opposition to Issue 2 and our support for Occupy Cleveland together. I went with Dan O’Malley, our Field Director, and Jeremy Johnston, our Office Manager, to give a “Teach-In” on Issue 2. The crowd was small and cold, but dedicated and sincerely interested in hearing our perspective on this ballot issue.
We huddled in the only tent allowed to be up 24/7 – a medium-sized white one – and I began by talking about Working America and our support for the Occupy movement. The Occupy folks were very excited to learn that our Executive Director, Karen Nussbaum, is on board with their message, and I shared the news articles that quote Karen discussing Occupy and Working America. I also left copies for them to share with other activists who may be in and out.
I passed the proverbial mic to Dan, and he discussed Issue 2 and why this attack on workers’ rights is bad for public safety, economic fairness, and the wellness of working families in Ohio. Our captive audience asked a few questions, and we discussed further how this issue affects all of us, not just the public workers whose rights are at risk. The moment of solidarity between the “No on 2” campaign and Occupy Cleveland was critical, both for the campaign as we enter the final week, and for the Occupiers as they struggle to keep their numbers up in the bitter Cleveland cold.
Also present at the teach-in was Martha Dus, a Working America member, who expressed her agreement with what we were saying during the teach-in. Martha is a classic example of our many members who fully support the message of the Occupy movement, but who cannot be out there with the activists regularly: she is elderly, and very vulnerable to ear and respiratory infections. After the teach-in, I checked in with Martha about her experience there. She thanked me for inviting her. “It was a good outing for me” she said, “The People of America have serious work to do if we are to get out from under the money manipulators. Think positive!”