Chapter 4 – What The Hell Is A Senate Bill 5?

I was just about ready to jump back into politics. Unbeknownst to me, things were about to get very real.

In 2010 the Republicans pulled off a nationwide coup that was nearly as devastating as Pearl Harbor. The Lefty crowd was still patting ourselves on the back for electing Barack Obama, choosing Hope over Fear. Rather than wringing their hands, the Republicans went to work. They targeted State Houses and Governorships across the country. Few states felt the sting as badly as Ohio.

I still view it as kismet. I walked into the job interview with high hopes. I had requisite experience, a passion for the work and, as I told you before, I’m a wizard at job interviews. The Field Director and I hit it off immediately. It was like we were brothers from another mother. He too had spent some time at Citizen Action, albeit years after my tenure. Within the first minute it was clear that I would get the job pending a second interview. The conversation progressed to how I could become a Field Director. I’m pretty sure I threw my hands up in the air and said “Whoa, wait a second.” I hadn’t escaped from twenty years of management jobs to go right back to being someone’s boss. At the time, I still had delusions of being an award-winning crime writer. Dreams die hard.

“I know what kind of hours you have to work, B. Time is more important than money to me at this point in my life. In fact, I’d like to do this job four days a week. You see, I write books.”

He got this stern look on his face, one that I’ve seen maybe three times in the eight years that we’ve been friends. “This work is too important, T. We expect everyone who takes this job to be on-time full-time. We’re going to pay you a good wage plus bonuses and pay for your health care. All we expect you to do it be here forty hours per week and to do a good job while you’re here.”

I thought I had overplayed my hand. I said, “I can do that.” And that was that. I walked from the dark side into the light.

sI had my first union job, fighting for worker’s rights against some of the same corporations I used to work for. About six weeks later, Governor John Kasich signed a bill into law that would seriously roll back those right in the state. The bill was so hated that only one state senator would publicly sponsor it. The so-called Senate Bill 5 would restrain the rights of unionized state workers to collectively bargain.

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING: When a group of workers negotiates with management as a unit, typically for wages, insurance, benefits and working conditions. This bargaining unit usually takes the form of a union and must be ratified in a democratic vote of the proposed unit’s members.

Specifically, Senate Bill 5 allowed for the negotiating of wages, but eliminated any other bargaining rights. This was particularly troublesome for first responders and teachers, who already had to go into their own pockets for supplies and safety equipment. Roughly a half-million workers were affected by the new law. Mass protests erupted at the statehouse. I was there on day one.

In Ohio, the citizens have the right to repeal any law, but only if they can muster enough statewide support to get it put on the ballot. At the time the bill was signed into law, the threshold was 400,000 verified signatures to put the repeal on the ballot. In addition to that, a minimum number of signatures needs to be distributed among 44 of the state’s 88 counties. Progressive groups, including my own, set a goal of 500,000 signatures in the next three months. My team crisscrossed the state, going to all the tiny hamlets that were off the beaten path.

I mentioned early that only one senator would sponsor SB5. She was from a rural “safe” district where she’d won by a large margin the previous November. We took the fight directly to her home town. I can recall canvassing on her street, her husband following close behind, trying to explain away her heinous act. We got a chuckle on the ride home that night. In the end, 1.3 million signatures were collected, 900,000 being valid.

I estimate that I talked to over 4000 voters in that election cycle. It was a nightly education in what people really want and need. I had people from the Right and the Left tell me they expected bloody revolution to break out. I heard from voters who said their single biggest issue was the city not fixing the potholes on their street. I also heard the litany of “birth certificate, Muslim, Kenya” bullshit from the burgeoning Fox News crowd. It was alternating hope and despair. I loved it.

In November of 2011 we went back to the polls to vote on Senate Bill 5. It was a resounding win for the good guys. We got more votes than Kasich did when he was elected. It was also a foreshadowing of things to come.

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