A Victory For Public Workers In Ohio And Michigan

Voters Show Support for Workers’ Rights

Originally posted in the fall 2011 edition of The Leader

Tuesday, Nov. 8, was a momentous night for the labor movement. Legislative victories in Ohio and Michigan showed that voters care about workers’ rights and the need for jobs, and the elections confirmed that Americans still have a say in their governments.

In a special election in Ohio, voters repealed Senate Bill 5, which would have rewritten Ohio’s 1983 collective bargaining law and removed many of the rights of public service workers, including those of firefighters, police officers and teachers. Republican Gov. John Kasich championed the bill as a way for the state to cut costs, but clearly voters did not approve.

SB 5 would have reduced the collective bargaining power of roughly 350,000 public workers, who no longer would have the right to negotiate changes to previous contracts or health care benefits. Under the measure, promotion rules and employee qualifications only could have been bargained with management’s approval, and public worker strikes would have been banned.

Labor unions came out in force to support their members during the Ohio vote. The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) launched a full-scale bus tour and political advertising campaign across the state, while We Are Ohio raised an estimated $30 million in donations, many coming from Ohio public workers.

“One message rang loud and clear tonight in Ohio and across the country: those who spend their time scapegoating workers and pushing a partisan agenda will only strengthen the resolve of working people,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement released the night of the vote. “From the very beginning, it’s been clear that Gov. Kasich, and indeed many politicians, were pushing an agenda that was about politics, not about solving our nation’s problems or creating jobs.”

Some see the victory as an early predictor of voter sentiment for the 2012 elections. More importantly, the vote ensures that public workers across Ohio remain able to have a say in their jobs.

“Ohio proves that we can win when we unify and fight back,” said AFSA President Diann Woodard. “We must continue to push back when these Draconian laws are introduced in state legislatures across the country.”

In Michigan, voters recalled State Rep. Paul Scott (R-Grand Blanc), the chairman of the House Education Committee, whose policies such as backing state school aid cuts, weakening teacher tenure and taxing pension incomes did not sit well with voters. The campaign to successfully recall Rep. Scott was led by the Michigan Education Association, and it is the first time a state representative has been recalled in 28 years. A special election will be held on Feb. 28 to fill the vacant seat.