CLEVELAND - Thousands of volunteers are fanning out across Ohio circulating petitions to repeal Senate Bill 5, a measure stripping collective bargaining rights from over 350,000 public employees. Last week when the petitions became available, the state AFL-CIO, affiliated unions and many community groups took part in training sessions to launch the drive to collect a minimum of 231,147 valid signatures by June 30. If that many are collected, the repeal of SB 5 will appear on the November ballot.
Judging from the enthusiasm at standing room only meetings throughout the state and reports from the field, We Are Ohio, the coalition coordinating the effort, may well reach its goal of over twice the number needed in a short time.
Over 4,000 attended the sessions held by the AFL-CIO in 26 cities and towns. Volunteers are going into every kind of meeting, restaurants and bars, theaters, senior centers and workplaces as well as door to door and reporting a strong positive response.
Steelworkers Local 169 in Mansfield is using its parking lot as a drive-through with tables set up for people to sign petitions.
William Nix, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 268, already turned in petitions with over 600 signatures collected at transit barns in the Cleveland area.
Homeless coalitions in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati have set Friday to collect signatures from 9 am to 6 pm in homeless shelters where nearly all residents are registered voters.
Volunteers also stood outside polls Tuesday, which was a primary day in many municipalities.
"People are angry and scared," said Connie Sapin, state coordinator for MoveOn. "They are saying things like ‘this is not my government' and ‘we have to do something to stop what's going on.'"
While organized labor and its allies see SB 5 as a naked power grab aimed at destroying opposition to a right-wing extremist agenda, Republican Gov. John Kasich claims the measure is just a way to reduce a projected $8 billion budget deficit.
The proposed budget would slash funding for education, senior programs and local governments, while increasing massive tax giveaways to the corporations and the rich. Without these exemptions and loopholes, the state would have a large budget surplus.
The AFL-CIO and One Ohio Now, a progressive budget coalition, have scheduled a demonstration at the Capitol in Columbus for Thursday when Kasich's budget proposal is scheduled for a vote in the Republican-controlled House.
While targeting the collective bargaining rights of public employees, Kasich has cynically issued proclamations making May 1-7 "Public Service Appreciation Week" and "Teacher Appreciation Week."
Photo: Union members and others, including County Councilman Dale Miller receive petitions at a training session in Cleveland. Taken by Bill Obbagy