JEFFERSON Ohio - Huddling under a sea of umbrellas on a cold, rainy day, hundreds of union workers and their supporters rallied while chanting "Union Yes" and singing "Which side are you on." This was one of 17 rallies held throughout the state.
Eric Urban, organizer for the Ohio Education Association, opened the meeting and introduced speakers from the AFL-CIO and affiliated unions, the NAACP, the Farmers Union, and county officials.
President of the Ashtabula County AFL-CIO Ray Gruber said "We didn't break the economy, don't load it on our backs", referring to Governor Kasich's proposals to slash trillions of dollars in state aid for schools and local communities.
NAACP leader Albert Jones said the NAACP is in" full support of our union brothers and sisters, that cuts in public service jobs hit African-American workers especially hard". Farmers Union President Mardi Townsend said "workers and farmers need strong unions", and she made reference to the Wisconsin Farmers Union tractor brigade heading toward Madison protesting public service cuts in that state.
Tammy Segulin, president of the city of Chardon's Education Association, called on the crowd to "bury 5 to stay alive", referring to Senate Bill 5 which would strip collective bargaining from public workers.
The crowd broke into a chant "No Justice, no Peace, No Jobs, no Peace", led by Diana Dickson Sowry from the Jefferson school union local.
A County Commissioners resolution opposing SB5 was presented by Commissioner Dan Claypool, telling the workers "You are not the problem, you are the solution", and to "stand up and work against this terrible, terrible bill". "Ohio is for sale", he said, referring to a number of proposals in the governor's budget to sell state assets to private businesses.
Ohio Association of Public Schools employe Jay Demegal said . "History teaches us, that by destroying collective bargaining, you would be turning your backs on the work and sacrifice of your predecessors to give workers a voice", and referred to the Ludlow Massacre and the Haymarket killings.
AFL-CIO Secretary Pat Carr read a powerful statement from Bishop Murray of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, defending the rights of workers to join together and form unions.
Conversations among those in the audience echoed what was being said from the stage. Teamster Local 436 member Greg Emerson said that Kasich and others are "trying to get rid of unions". "They want us all to work at the level of the 11.2 million undocumented workers, who have been denied all rights to protect themselves". AFSCME Local 371 President Janet Boland said "our freedoms are disappearing, this is just the beginning".
Organizer Urban announced that "when this budget and these bills get passed in Columbus, we will be circulating referendum petitions. Stay in touch with your local unions and the AFL-CIO".