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.