Ohio voters on Tuesday soundly defeated SB 5, an attempt by Gov. John Kasich to curtail public sector employees’ right to collective bargaining. The Ohio Legislature passed SB 5 in March and Gov. Kasich quickly signed the bill into law. But in April a grassroots campaign led by labor unions and community supporters launched a petition drive calling for a referendum to repeal the bill. Volunteers gathered more than a million signatures on the petition, which qualified the initiative for a place on the November election ballot. When voters went to the polls, they defeated the anti-worker measure by a vote of 61 percent to 30 percent.
State and local government workers make only 6.5 percent of Ohio’s population, so the effort to repeal SB 5 obviously received strong support from private sector workers.
“Many Ohioans have been with us since the beginning,” said Courtney Johnson, a public school teacher in Ironton, and a member of We Are Ohio, a grassroots coalition of labor and community groups that fought SB 5. “From the day we were locked out of the statehouse to the day we turned in 1.3 million signatures, we have felt the support of Ohioans. Tonight we thank you and all Ohio voters for your historic and overwhelming support of collective bargaining rights for Ohio’s everyday heroes.”
Gov. Kasich tried to use Ohio’s budget problems as an excuse to limit collective bargaining rights. He argued that public sector unions had too much power, and this power was causing budget deficits for state and local governments. In addition to limiting collective bargaining rights, SB 5 also took away the right to strike and imposed health care and pension concessions that would have significantly raised public worker expenses for these benefits and reduced their take-home pay.
When thousands of angry workers converged on the Ohio statehouse in February to protest SB 5, they found themselves locked out and prevented from entering the building. In March, SB 5 passed both houses of the Legislature and was signed by Gov. Kasich.
Unions called SB 5 an attack on the middle class and on middle-class jobs. The Ohio public seemed to agree. In a three-month period following passage of SB 5, volunteers fanned out across the state and collected 1.3 million signatures on a petition to put the measure on a referendum ballot.
“(SB 5) is going to kill the middle class,” said Kristi Hall to the Ironton Tribune while she gathered signatures on the petition. “It is going to affect so many people. So many jobs will be lost.”
In June, thousands of Ohio working people marched through the streets of Columbus, the state capital, to the secretary of state’s office where they presented their petitions.
We Are Ohio didn’t wait for the secretary of state to verify the petition signatures. After the march, it began recruiting and mobilizing volunteers to turn out voters for the referendum. It organized telephone banks, canvassed neighborhoods and shopping centers, and held rallies and demonstrations urging voters to reject SB 5.
It also raised a lot of money, about $30 million according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. That money allowed We Are Ohio to begin running television commercials attacking SB 5 in September.
We Are Ohio called the defeat of SB 5 historic. “In what is thought to be the first election in the country on collective bargaining rights, Issue 2 (the SB 5 measure) was soundly defeated by Ohio voters,” read a statement released by We Are Ohio. “Today’s vote shows middle-class Ohioans wanted to send a clear and emphatic message to our leaders and our nation that Ohioans don’t turn our backs on the people who watch ours. This vote indicates Ohioans not only support public employees but they also understand that they have been problem solvers and have done so by making more than $1 billion in sacrifices in just the last three years.”
Republicans who supported SB 5, however, said that the fight to curb public employee rights isn’t over. State Senator Keith Faber, who supported SB 5 in debates during the election campaign said that Republicans would re-introduce some of the measures in SB 5 when the Legislature reconvenes next year.