How I woke up in Columbus

Before Senate Bill 5, I didn’t give much thought to collective bargaining, and preferred to ignore the Ohio Legislature. What a mistake!

Thanks to a day in Columbus, I woke up! When I finally understood that the legislation would destroy the democratic process for workplace decision-making, cut public employee pay and make our state less attractive to motivated employees, and hobble the role of unions in the political process, I decided to attend a rally at the statehouse.

As a 1969 college graduate, citizen protest is in my past. I wondered what a statehouse rally in 2011 led by mostly middle-income, middle-aged people who work for state regulated public agencies would be like. 

The lawn of the statehouse was inhabited by thousands of people proudly displaying their identity as teachers, firefighters, prison guards, sanitation workers, park rangers, and more—polite, standing side by side with a shared sense of disbelief, joined by the need to resist. I was surrounded by the faces of government—the people who deliver critical services that affect all of our lives. The bottom line for them is not profit, but rather the impact on the people they serve—the public.

These are the people who always follow the rules, participate, do their fair share. They get involved, coach Little League, and run bake sales. They give to their communities and their workplaces. While angry and committed to resist, they seemed plain-out stunned. Where did this attack come from? Why them? They had to do what any self-respecting person does in this kind of situation—stand up to their boss, a bully who disrespected them and their work. 

I felt a deeper worry. The attack on public employees was just the first shot of a bigger battle to put the public sector up for grabs. Making public employees the bad guys is the first step toward defining anything public as bad. When public is defined as bad or too much government, then privatization or termination become the alternatives. Both diminish the quality of life in our communities, from sewers and police protection to education and care for the elderly. Is that what we want? Do we want services to become business? If you are worried about greed, don’t look at public employee pay checks, look at those who want to privatize the public sector.

The rally did not change the outcome of the vote, but it changed me. The state senate passed Senate Bill 5 with a single vote majority and the house gave it stronger endorsement. It is now law, but what is great about our democracy is that people fight back. Resistance is focused on a ballot issue to repeal the legislation.

My day in Columbus made this issue my problem—not some distant chatter to be shut away by turning off the television. Now I have to do something about it. 

Susie Kaeser

Susie Kaeser is a 30 year resident of Cleveland Heights, former director of Reaching Heights, and recently joined the board of trustees of the Home Repair Resource Center.

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Volume 4, Issue 5, Posted 1:19 PM, 05.03.2011