More than 400 people stood in a steady rain and near-freezing temperatures for two hours Tuesday to voice their opposition to Senate Bill 5, the proposed legislation that would slash collective bargaining for union workers and prohibit them from going on strike.
Ralliers included teachers from Copley-Fairlawn and Stark County, firefighters from Cuyahoga Falls and Alliance, Akron police, steelworkers, autoworkers and others.
They huddled at the Laborers International Hall on Wolf Ledges under multicolored umbrellas or stood covered in bright blue plastic rain slickers passed out by a visiting New York union.
Crowd members waived signs that read “Kasich is Not King” and chanted, “Kill the bill” and “United we bargain, divided we beg.”
Speaker after speaker -- 21 in all -- said the slogans were the first volley in a war for survival of the middle class.
The rally was one of 13 protests Tuesday across Ohio organized by Stand Up for Good Jobs and Strong Communities, a coalition of faith, community, student, labor and civil rights groups. Another rally took place in .
The aim was to send a loud message to state lawmakers, who appear poised to pass the controversial bill limiting employee bargaining rights.
“Labor was busted three times before the 1930s,” said speaker Charlie Lemon, a former boilermaker who is now president of the United Retirees of America. "It was Wall Street – déjà vu. Here we are again.”
Lemon told the crowd that unions have had it much harder. “You think you’ve got it tough? Stand up! Fight! Take your country back!”
The bill still needs the vote of the Republican-controlled House and the signature of Republican Gov. John Kasich. Virtually every speaker saw the bill also as a thinly veiled attack on the Democratic Party and on the presidential election of 2012.
“Senate Bill 5 is about trying to reduce the political power of unions. That’s what it’s all about," said Greg Coleridge, director of the American Friends Service in Cuyahoga Falls. He said the bill, along with last year’s Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to finance political commercials, has shifted the balance of power in favor of big business.
“Kasich’s banker buddies are at the front of the line wanting their payoff," he said. "Senate Bill 5 is about the corporatization of public assets, our jails, our schools."
Russ Pier, a science teacher at Bolich Middle School, attended the rally and shared his thoughts with Cuyahoga Falls Patch.
“This is not about union rights, it’s the corporate takeover of America, breaking the backs of the unions," he said. "Working class people are being called on to bail out the state when really it was Wall Street that has bankrupted us. They’re going after the wrong people. They’re asking us to ante up and corporations haven’t been asked to ante up; in fact they’ve cut corporate tax. I just don’t get it."
“Benefits, they’ve already been taken away; like everybody else, I haven’t had a pay raise in years either," Pier added. "I honestly don’t know why anybody nowadays would go into education.”
Recent polls suggest public workers have support among Ohio residents for a referendum. According to Public Policy Polling numbers released Tuesday, 54 percent of voters in the state say they'd vote to repeal SB 5 if it becomes law. Thirty-one percent said they'd vote against repeal.