Senate Bill 5 Passes 17-16

I came straight from work tonight to the vigil/rally in the Statehouse Atrium this afternoon.  From the sound of the crowd gathered, I knew that the outcome was not good.  Senate Bill 5, which would forbid state workers from striking, and which greatly weakens collective bargaining, passed by a margin of 17-16.  The only heartening news is that several Republicans crossed party lines to vote against the bill.  I don’t see this happening in the Ohio House.

Above is some of the video footage which I took once I was in the Atrium.  I came in through the west doors and crossed the rotunda, the same rotunda where Abraham Lincoln’s body lay in state 98 years to the day before I was born.  All I had to do was follow the sound of the crowd, magnified by the high marble walls and open spaces.

The Atrium was full of union workers–many teachers, state workers (such as myself), police officers, and firefighters.  Many unionists were private sector, such as IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and SEIU (Service Employees International Union).  I remember many anti-war demonstrations I attended in Washington during the Reagan Administration, where there was a strong union presence, especially the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and the Teamsters.

Joe Hill’s quote “Don’t mourn, organize!” became clichéd from overuse, when I’d see it everywhere from bumper stickers to placards to sidewalks.  However, the people I saw gathered this evening seemed to be taking that to heart.  Licking wounds and hand-wringing is a luxury union people do not have.

I’ve long ago lost count of how many political and social demonstrations I’ve attended in my lifetime.  I played hooky from high school one weekend in my senior year to hitchhike to Washington to protest U.S. policy in El Salvador, I went to Wayne State University to represent the Unitarian Church at an anti-draft conference, and the list is a long one.  In this case, the majority of the people there today were appearing for the sake of their livelihoods, especially the teachers.  I am a state worker, and the only time I feel my life is at risk is when the freight elevator makes a strange noise when I’m aboard.  However, my fellow state workers in the Division of Rehabilitation and Corrections were demonized by the proponents of this bill, and they risk their lives every day when they’re exposed to hostile, dangerous, and desperate inmates who literally have nothing more to lose.

There were also the usual crowd of people who appear at every rally, whether it’s protesting the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians, to rallies against police brutality, to pro-choice.  Many are in their late teens and early 20s, and are zealously committed to the cause, carrying the most prominent placards, handing out flyers and the latest issue of Revolution (formerly known as Revolutionary Worker.)  I’m cynical and skeptical enough to take for granted that if I Googled their names in 15-20 years, at least three or four of them will have gone the David Horowitz route.

In the Statehouse Atrium, after word that Senate Bill 5 passed.

It was not easy finding the pictures to post to Facebook and to the blog, and I confess that I’ve watched less than two minutes of the 15-20 minutes’ worth of footage I shot in the Atrium late this afternoon.  When I look at the tiny monitor on my camera to look at either the still or the video pictures, everything looks like a flea circus, and I kick myself for the picture quality, or the lack of it.  I have to wait until I get home and load to see whether I’ve captured a diamond in the rough.

At least it’s better than dropping it off at the drugstore and waiting 3-4 days to learn.

Union Members Converge on the Statehouse to Stop Senate Bill 5

This is one of the rare occasions when I’ll let pictures and sound do most of the work.  I spent my lunch hour on the Statehouse lawn today, joining with other union members in condemning Ohio Senate Bill 5, which would take away collective bargaining rights, as well as salary increases guaranteed by contract.  It would also require state workers to contribute more to their health insurance.

As a union steward (for two different unions, past and present), I was there in the freezing cold to show the state senators debating inside that I am one of many opposed to this bill.  When I walked to the east lawn of the Statehouse, the crush of pro-union people, with the noise and the music (firefighters played their bagpipes), boosted my spirits.  I brought along my mini-camcorder, and christened it with the footage I’ve posted above.

I am most proud of this picture today.  The video’s quality leaves plenty to be desired, but I was fortunate to take this picture of former Governor Ted Strickland interviewed by WEWS-TV, Cleveland, on the east side of the Statehouse lawn.

I saw several people from church, both separately and together, and not all of them are unionists.  We only saw one counter-protester, a woman holding a sign saying that she was a “progressive Libertarian.”  (I think that means she hates both government and corporations.)

OCSEA (the Ohio Civil Service Employees’ Association) is my fourth union.  When I worked at Medco Health Solutions (which was National Rx, and then Merck-Medco–all during the course of my employment there), I belonged to the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers International Union.  I served as recording secretary and as a steward, and represented Columbus at a regional convention in Cincinnati (ironically enough, at the same hotel which later hosted several Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Conventions).  This union became the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical, and Energy Workers International Union while I worked at Medco.  While at the IRS, I was a proud member of the National Treasury Employees Union, which was a pretty impotent union, since Federal employees are forbidden by law to strike.  (The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization learned this the hard way–and they had endorsed Reagan in 1980.  The word karma springs to mind.  A former union president (Screen Actors Guild), Reagan wholeheartedly supported labor unions.  They just had to be in Poland.)

I have a small niche in Ohio labor history.  I was the only person to get back pay from the Medco strike.  In 1997, I was still working as an appointment clerk at the IRS, but moonlighting evenings and weekends at Medco, just as the contract was due to expire.  I decided that if they struck, I would go out as well.  I stopped showing up for work, and a supervisor fired me over the phone when I told her I would be back at work as soon as the strike ended.

This led to my spending several evenings in the OSU law library, giving myself a quick-and-dirty crash course in labor law.  I learned then that you cannot fire a bargaining unit employee merely for honoring a strike.  My evaluations had all been positive, my supervisors all liked me, and I was usually the first to volunteer for any extra work.

I won’t extend the story unnecessarily, except to say that I wrote to the National Labor Relations Board in Cincinnati and explained the situation.  They took an affidavit over the phone from me, I filled out several forms and mailed them to Cincinnati, and soon after the strike ended, a person in Medco’s human resources office.  I could come back, with back pay, and a three-week leave of absence when Susie was born.  (Steph was pregnant with Susie during the strike and during my battle to get the job back.)

It’s not the stuff of a made-for-TV movie, but I am proud of the struggle and the outcome, and not just because I kept a part-time job that would become full-time the following spring.