Thousands of union members and labor supporters covered the west lawn and broad steps of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus Tuesday, roaring in unison phrases like "This is what democracy looks like" and "Kill the bill."
One man in a red T-shirt bearing the words, "No to SB5," weaved through the crowd with a bullhorn, shouting, "Wake up! We need to misbehave."
The throngs came to the capital city in fleets of buses, vans and private vehicles to protest Senate Bill 5, a piece of legislation that would limit collective bargaining for state employees, as well as for teachers and municipal workers, including police and firefighters.
Thousands of union supporters gathered in Columbus to protest Senate Bill 5.
"We strongly feel SB5 will affect our collective bargaining as our contract comes up for negotiations at the end of this year - we just don't know how right now," said Shane Cochran, a City of Marietta employee and members of Teamsters Local 637.
"This bill is definitely a major concern for us, but I feel better seeing so much support from other unions across the state here today," he said.
Cochran pointed proudly to the bill of his white cap that had been signed earlier that afternoon by renowned Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa, who led the crowd in chanting "No Justice, No Peace" during Tuesday's event.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
A pair of Ohio corrections officers hold signs lambasting Gov. John Kasich for his support of Ohio Senate Bill 5 that would end collective bargaining for state employees. The officers were among thousands of union supporters from across Ohio who attended a rally at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus Tuesday.
Matt Arnold, vice president of Washington County Local 8400 of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA), said the rally was the third he's attended in Columbus, protesting SB5.
"Every crowd has been bigger than the last, but they've always been very orderly," he said. "And I think we've made some progress with legislators over the last couple of weeks. But we won't really know until they vote on the bill."
Art Fordham, a retired teacher and former Marietta city councilman, said things go a lot smoother with collective bargaining between teachers and school districts.
"I spent more than 31 years as a public school teacher, before and after collective bargaining came into being," he said. "And I've been on both sides of the table as a councilman and as a negotiator for the teachers association. I know collective bargaining is a much better way to settle issues."
Fordham attended Tuesday's rally with Frank Fleischer of Cambridge, former candidate for Ohio's 93rd House District, who is also retired from 30 years with the Ohio Department of Mental Health.
"I worked for 11 years before collective bargaining, and was involved in three state worker strikes," Fleischer said. "It was not good. But collective bargaining provided rules for both sides in negotiations, and after collective bargaining began, there were no strikes."
Fordham and Fleischer also expressed concern that one proposal in SB5 could limit teachers to a one-year contract and would require teachers to serve 35 years before obtaining a pension.
"Teaching is a professional career, and for students' sake we want really good teachers, but that can't happen if they're constantly in fear of losing their jobs or being penalized," Fordham said. "And teaching is not an easy job."
"My daughter-in-law has been teaching for three years in the Canton area now, but she doesn't know if she'll still have the job next year due to uncertainty about the provisions of SB5," he said.
Former ODOT District 10 deputy director Karen Pawloski said during her early career she spent more than four years as "a proud union member."
"And I think SB5 is demeaning and very offensive to public employees," she said. "I chose a career in public service - it was almost a calling - so I take offense at this effort to do away with public employees' collective bargaining rights."
As an administrator at ODOT, Pawloski said she had an excellent relationship with members of the bargaining units.
"We were able to resolve a lot of issues before they reached the level of grievances," she said. "We had a real partnership. And I know there are department managers now who are secretly hoping this bill is killed."
SB5 was initially scheduled for a vote Tuesday, but at the end of the day the bill, with a number of amendments, remained in the Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee.
"I believe these rallies are having an impact, as another series of amendments - 98 pages this time - were added today. Our people are currently analyzing those amendments," said Sally Meckling, spokeswoman for the 34,000-member OCSEA.
"This is definitely the largest crowd we've had - I've heard estimates of 10,000 to 20,000 people," Meckling said. "And we'll be returning when the Senate committee reconvenes (Wednesday), and our people will be there every day until this bill is passed or killed."