Monday, August 22, 2011

Guest Post From Rep. Connie Pillich (D-OH): Ohio's Senate Bill 5


State Rep. Connie Pillich is running for the Cincinnati-bassed House seat currently occupied by GOP corporate shill Steve Chabot

Now that the recall elections are over in Wisconsin, all eyes should be turning to Ohio. In Ohio, an even more restrictive anti-collective bargaining law was passed by the Republican-dominated legislature and signed into law by the Republican governor in March.

While teachers were demonstrating in Madison, thousands of fire fighters, police officers, teachers, nurses, hospital workers, school bus drivers, and many others were protesting in Columbus. We just didn’t get the national press.

Ohio’s law restricts collective bargaining for all public employees, including safety personnel such as police officers, fire fighters, and nurses. The law, called Senate Bill 5, was introduced by one lone state senator without a single co-sponsor. It quickly drew the ire of public employees, their unions, and their friends.

In its original form, SB 5 prohibited all collective bargaining for all public employees. Later it was amended to permit what the sponsor called collective bargaining for wages. This “bargaining” eliminated arbitration, giving the final say on any contract to the employer. In reality, this is nothing more than collective begging. One does not need to be an attorney to understand the patent unfairness of such a provision. The bill also contains unconstitutional provisions and hurts veterans.

Using the power of social media, public employee unions urged their members, their families, and their supporters to attend the committee hearings on SB 5. Hundreds and thousands heard the call. They began to pack the State House on committee hearing days. The Republican hierarchy began to panic at the response. Had they really not anticipated this reaction? By eliminating collective bargaining, they not only were taking away people’s rights, they also were jeopardizing their livelihoods and safety equipment.

Ohio’s State House has been the site of many protests and gatherings over its 150-year history. The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board is well-equipped to accommodate large crowds who attend committee hearings and sessions. They prepare over-flow rooms for the crowds, setting up thousands of chairs and piping in the audio from the committee room. CSRAB prepared for these protests as they had done for others. But too many people came.

I made sure to walk from my office over to the State House during the protests. I not only wanted to show my support for the public employees, but I also got a pick-me-up from visiting. As a Democrat serving at a time when the Republican majority was introducing such draconian legislation, I loved stopping by the State House to see several thousand of my friends. I would walk over, roam through the crowds and find people from my district. Every now and then, people would erupt into a cheer, or start clapping their hands. Other than that, it was pretty peaceful as they strained to listen to the committee proceedings. I would chat for a while, and then I would head off to my next appointment. But on February 22nd, everything changed.

On that day, the doors to the State House were barricaded to keep Ohioans out.

Every door to the State House, the Senate Office Building, and the Atrium-- which connects the two-- was blocked by State Troopers. They granted entry only to state legislators, staff, people on official business, lobbyists, and 700 citizens who wanted to listen to the hearings on Senate Bill 5. The remaining thousands who wished to listen to the hearings were forced to wait outside in sub-freezing temperatures for hours while vast expanses of the large State House complex remained empty.

Attempts to learn who ordered the paltry limit and who had the authority to modify that order were rather fruitless, as troopers suggested I call the dispatch clerk (no answer) or the Columbus Fire Marshall (there isn’t one).

State Rep. Teresa Fedor marched right past the State Troopers and opened the doors herself, letting dozens more in. State Rep. Bob Hagan convinced Troopers to allow an additional 500 people in. Other state reps. were permitted to escort dozens more. But thousands continued to wait outside in the cold. We handed out cookies, coffee, and doughnuts and led spectators in cheers and chants. Fire fighters played bag pipes.

Unable to get relief from the barricaded doors through the chain of command, Democrats opted to seek an injunction in court to keep the State House open. Under the threat of a lawsuit, Republicans opened the doors and permitted many to enter late in the day.

It is an abomination that we had to resort to such action. The State House is the people’s house! It is normally open to everyone. It provides the forum for people to petition their government. It is the very essence of our First Amendment rights to assemble and speak freely. To deny entry to ordinary citizens who merely wish to listen-- and chant and clap-- is nothing short of tyranny.

Is this what we have come to? I had to wonder.

Governor Kasich signed SB 5 into law on March 31st. Public employee unions and their supporters immediately began a referendum effort to put SB 5 on the statewide ballot in November. On June 29th I joined about 6,000 people as we marched to the Secretary of State’s office. We delivered 1500 boxes of petitions holding 1.3 million signatures of people demanding to put SB 5 on the ballot. SB 5 will be Issue 2 this November. A “No” on Issue 2 means a repeal of SB 5.

With a majority of Ohioans opposing SB 5, the lines are being drawn. Business groups and chambers of commerce are officially endorsing the embattled bill. The middle class, working families, fire fighters, police, teachers, nurses, and those who appreciate them are lining up on the other side. This issue and the division it is causing are symptoms of the growing polarization in our state and nation. SB 5, if enacted, will be another step in the dismantling of the middle class, ruining the livelihood that has sustained so many families and local communities. And shutting down the engine that has driven our national economy for 60 years.

This week, Governor Kasich announced he is interested in “talking” with SB 5/Issue 2 opponents. I suppose he has seen the polling that shows a huge majority of Ohioans oppose SB 5. He claims he hopes to find a compromise that will avoid the costly referendum election this fall. Opponents are pleased that he has finally admitted that the bill is flawed, unfair, and unconstitutional, as well as harmful to veterans. But the idea that he suddenly wants to talk is ludicrous. Where was he when thousands descended on the capitol last winter? Instead of talking, he hid behind locked doors.

If Gov. Kasich is really interested in compromise, he and the Republic legislative leadership should show an act of good faith: Convene the legislature and repeal SB 5 this month. Then all parties can sit at the same table to craft a mutually agreeable solution. Anything short of a full repeal this month would destroy all goodwill between the two sides. And, it will reveal the Governor’s statement for what it truly is: a campaign tactic in this difficult battle.

The mobilization of ordinary, working people in response to the draconian content of SB 5 and the tyrannical efforts to keep people out of the State House has been amazing. It has been the one bright spot in this year of terrible legislative policy by the Ohio Republicans.

Rep. Connie Pillich


UPDATE From Howie

I looked around the archives for a video that would show something of Connie's soul as a public servant. I found several. I want to share this one with you just as I ask you to consider chipping in for her election campaign at our ActBlue page.

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At 3:31 PM, Blogger John in Cincinnati said...

As an indicator of just how bad SB 5 is, the original bill which flat out prohibited collective bargaining, is not even available on the General Assembly site. What shows is the amended substitute bill.


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