Ohio Union Struggle Enters Home Stretch

With less than three weeks until the Nov. 8 election, the campaigns for and against Issue 2 are seeking to persuade voters to join their cause.

Supporters and opponents of Issue 2 are waging full-scale war to win your vote.

In union-strong Cleveland, police officers, fire fighters and teachers , knocking on doors and telling voters that Issue 2 will undermine their way of life, union member or not.

In Southern Ohio, voters file into town halls to hear conservatives say Issue 2 is necessary if Ohio’s local governments are to keep taxes down.

And in living rooms across the state, campaign ads bombard channel-surfing Ohioans with images of proud teachers, stressed families trying to make ends meet and one angry great grandmother.

Issue 2 is the ballot referendum that will decide the fate of Senate Bill 5, Gov. John Kasich's controversial proposal to restrict collective bargaining for Ohio's government workers. Fighting the law is We Are Ohio, a coalition of union-backed groups. Supporting the issue is Building a Better Ohio, a GOP-backed group.

The fighting is fierce and millions of dollars are being spent. Politicos are watching carefully to see what, if anything, the race will say about the psyche of Ohio voters heading into next year's presidential election.

While Building a Better Ohio says more people are supporting Issue 2 as they learn the facts -- polls show support has grown but still lags behind the opposition -- political observers say the union- and Democratic-backed opponents have displayed more firepower so far.

That's because this is a back-against-the-wall, life-or-death fight for them. It's an ideological battle for both sides, but also deeply personal for opponents who believe the law will undermine their livelihood.

“This is Armageddon for public-sector unions,” said Brent Larkin, the former long-time editorial director for the Plain Dealer. “There is no tomorrow if Issue 2 passes.”

On the Ground, Through the Airwaves

Political campaigns are fought with boots and cable boxes.

On both counts, We Are Ohio seems to have the advantage so far.

Observers say they are winning the ground game -- that's what a Ohio professor told the New York Times recently -- and are spending more on TV spots than Issue 2 supporters, according to reporting by the state's largest newspapers.

According to the article, We Are Ohio spent $1.92 million to buy television spots in Ohio's major markets while Building a Better Ohio has spent more than $741,000. A group called Make Ohio Great has spent $441,000 on ads that feature Gov. John Kasich and talk about reforms but don't specifically mention Issue 2 or Senate Bill 5.

We Are Ohio gave reporters numbers that showed higher spending levels -- $5.4 million by opponents and $4 million by supporters -- but the disparity remained.

Building a Better Ohio says it's raising the money it needs to win. The group has not yet revealed the amount of its war chest or who its donors are.

One trend working against Issue 2 is that big business, usually a stalwart supporter of GOP-backed initiatives, appears to be taking a less obvious role in this fight.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce and pro-business groups have endorsed Issue 2 and are actively supporting it, but most CEOs are not likely to publicly embrace it, said Paul Allen Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State University.

For one thing, Issue 2 is not about private-sector employees, so there is less incentive. It's also very controversial.

"The advantage of the Chamber is that it's not really clear where that money comes from," Beck said. "Many corporations don’t want to alientate people, particularly on an issue so polarizing as Senate bill 5."

Larkin said that businesses in Ohio have worked hard to make peace with their unions and that they don't want to stir up trouble over something that won't directly affect the bottom line.

Beck said another issue is that Issue 2 impacts police and firefighters, often people with a more conservative outlook. This issue divides their allegiances.

"Some of them are long-term Republicans, and they are furious," Beck said.

A 'Powerful Message'

Still, Issue 2 supporters can't be counted out. Larkin said they have a "powerful message" that should not be under-estimated.

The supporters have been running a door-to-door campaign and phone banks and reaching out to voters across the state, said Connie Wehrkamp, a spokeswoman for Building a Better Ohio.

She acknowledged that the opponents had a head start, but disagreed that they have the edge.

"I think the more people learn about Issue 2, the more they support it," Wehrkamp said. "We are going to do everything we can to make sure people understand the issue and get the facts."

While the opponents have the backing of the unions, the supporters also have a powerful political apparatus behind them. A group called Make Ohio Great, which is connected to the influential Republican Governor's Association, is running ads in Ohio featuring Kasich championing the "reasonable reforms" of Issue 2.

The Ohio Chapter of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, founded with the support of the influential Koch brothers, has been holding town halls throughout the state to urge a "yes vote."

"We’re going all over the state trying to educate citizens," said Rebecca Heimlich, the director of Americans for Prosperity Ohio. "We're explaining to them why, as taxpayers, they should care."

FreedomWorks, the influential Tea Party group, has created a "Yes for Jobs" campaign in Ohio. The organization says it has produced "tens of thousands" of campaign signs and door hangers that will be distributed throughout Ohio.

There are also many parts of Senate Bill 5 that are popular, and many of the supporters' ads focus on provisions that force public employees to pay more of their health insurance premiums and pensions like private-sector workers.

"I think most Ohioans look at their own situations and say it isn't too much to ask," Wehrkamp said.

Issue 2 supporters also take exception to the notion that their opponents have more support from government workers.

"Obviously, it's a tough issue for people to publicly step out and support," Wehrkamp said. "I think there is a group of silent supporters who really understand."

"The other side is using emotion to drive the debate but is failing to talk about the facts of the issue," she added. "More and more Ohioans see that the path we are on is unsubstainable."

'Line in the Sand'

Do-or-die rhetoric is common on the campaign trail for the Issue 2 opposition.

"Ohio is our line in the sand," Chuck Canterbury, president of the National Fraternal Order of Police, told police officers and firefighters before sending them into the streets of Strongsville, a Cleveland suburb. "We've got to win Ohio."

Put simply: The stakes are higher for Issue 2 opponents because its personal, not just ideological.

Ask the Coffee family. Jeff Coffee is a firefighter and Julie Coffee is a teacher. The couple's 11-year-old daughter Josie recently went with her father because she is worried about her parents' jobs.

“I feel I should support him in what he believes in," Josie said. "This would really hurt his job and my mom’s job."

We Are Ohio spokeswoman Melissa Fazekas said the petition drive to get Issue 2 on the ballot mobilized legions of eager volunteers right out of the starting gate.

"We’ve been building from the ground up," Fazekas said. "When we talk about being a true grassroots organization, that’s actually the truth. We had to collect all those signatures to get on the ballot, and we did that."

White Noise

Most voters will be exposed to the issue primarily through television ads.

Which likely means there will be lots of confused voters heading to the polls Nov. 8.

Political television ads are designed to distill a complex message by using strong symbols that will drive the most fervent supporters or opponents to the polls, said Beck, a political science professor.

A perfect example of such a symbol is Marlene Quinn, the Cincinnati great grandmother who was for one of their ads. This has produced plenty of campaign outrage.

Manipulating your opponents symbols is a tactic used for as long as political campaigns have been around, Beck said.

But any voters who are hoping to learn the facts from the ads are likely to be disappointed.

“I find the whole campaign on both sides rather disappointing," he said. "It doesn’t really hit the key issues that are involved and, as a result, I think voters will go to polls responding to symbols and not the serious policy questions at stake."

Debbie Palmer contributed reporting from Strongsville and Kasha Legeza contributed reporting from Kent.

mm3264 October 20, 2011 at 08:13 PM
Phil, if you havn't guessed it yet the Times has and always will hate the middle class American taxpayers that you refer to as unions. Every article you site, again, are right wing extremist articles. They always mention unfunded pensions, like they are going to cave in on society. Why don't they mention unfunded electric bills the state has? Do you know what unfunded means? Doubtful. All it means is that a bill hasn't been presented yet. It hasn't been budgeted yet. Have you funded your March 2013 electric bill yet? Are you in debt because of it? That's is what those that hate middle class Americans try to tell the simple-minded. These are part of compensation for the work they do. Who's fault is it that non union workers have been being screwed for the last thirty years? That's the timeline for the beginning of the massive difference between the 1% and the rest of us. That's right it's only been thitrty years. Do you get annoyed when Big Business makes contracts with the government and then the price triples for cost overruns? The middle class American taxpayers (unions) live with their contracts even when their pension money invested by the state earns the states billions. The middle class American taxpayers (unions) don't renegotiate. They say good luck to the state, because they are also taxpayers. Any pension that is in trouble is directly attributable to the state breaking their end of the contract, they are the ones who lied to the voters.
mm3264 October 20, 2011 at 08:22 PM
Phil, How is that unfunded mortgage you have? That unfunded cable bill? Of course you're not worried about it. Do you have a child, how about that unfunded college education they will need, that's going to set you back about $100,000 and that unfunded weddind your daughter might want? That unfunded heat and cooling bill for 2013, what will you do? Maybe you could toss out one of your kids. Or maybe just not feed one. It's a scare campaign Phil bought to you by someone who wants a bigger cut of the pie, they don't need it but if they can screw you out of it they will just so they have more.
mm3264 October 20, 2011 at 08:36 PM
Ward, I see you conveniently left out that while spending has increased REVENUES have fallen. Gee what do you think Ward? Revenues havn't been this low in 60 years. Those were the days weren't they? How's that trickle down theory working out for America. Except when they trickle it's yellow not the green we were promised. The teacher isn't at fault here Ward, it's the politics and the, now, open warfare against the American middle class taxpayer by the 1% the Republicans represent. Thanks to the Republicans the middle class can expect an increase in their taxes because the tax cut they received didn't do anything for the 1%, but the 1% will still get their Bush tax cuts while they trickle yellow on you.
Steve Edquist October 20, 2011 at 08:40 PM
What I think is funny, is that people are saying to vote no on issue 2 and turn around and say vote for another school or fire levy. AMAZING!!!!
Phil_Eng_Amer October 20, 2011 at 09:04 PM
mm3264, I’m not sure how various article reporting news events are “extremist," but you’re basically proving my point. If I can’t meet my payments in the future, I’ll have to cut back on other things to make ends meet. Except if I can’t pay my cable bill, thousands of employees aren’t laid off. If I can’t pay my child’s college tuition, the taxpayers of Ohio aren’t responsible for paying for it instead. I can’t lobby the oil company to drive down my rates. If I stop paying my oil bill, my heat gets turned off. If states can’t fund pensions, will workers stop getting them? If you can’t see the difference here, then I don’t know what to say. Certainly the rest of the state will understand, as the cost hits them directly in their pockets and in their neighborhoods. Listen, no one denies there are interest groups on either side with a dog in this fight. But in a competitive global economy we have to be aware of the changing nature of the compensation system. If we don’t address the problem and continue to dole out payments we can’t keep, the country will most definitely suffer.
mm3264 October 20, 2011 at 09:45 PM
Phil, why are you in favor of hurting and targeting these American middle class taxpayers for for contracts that the state wants to default on? You say if you can't pay your bills you'll cut back. That's fine. The state is claiming they can't pay their bills so they are targeting one class of citizen while still giving tax cuts to those few that kick back to their reelection campaigns. Why don't you feed Mary but not Johnny, that's what you want the state to do. Why shouldn't the it be shared. You decided we should make enemies of a percentage of the taxpayers but not all of them.We'll make demagouges of those who took lower salaries in a trade off for security and we'll screw them out of the security. We'll call them terrorists those who join together. Did your IRA take a hit? Well then it looks like YOU made a poor life choice and your arguement is "WAAA, WAAA, WAAA, they made better life choices, I want what they have, but I don't want to make the sacrifices they did, and if I can't have it I want you to take theirs away, WAAA, WAAA, WAAA" They made contracts and they must live with them just as the state must.
Wendy October 20, 2011 at 10:35 PM
Regardless of what you think of this or that provision of Issue 2, ask yourself this: Do I want to support a law that gives the government even more power to make even more citizens' lives miserable? If the answer is yes, have at it. But if you understand that Issue 2 will cost jobs, will increase unemployment, will reduce wages for average working folks, will increase court dockets, will seriously impact teaching and learning conditions in schools, will negatively affect every aspect of work for police, firefighters, and nurses, will do nothing to get rid of the deadweight that accrues in any organization, and not create one job or opportunity, the do right by yourself and your community: vote NO on Issue 2.
James Pistorio October 20, 2011 at 11:02 PM
The governor did not want to talk with the unions until it appeared as though they were going to be successful in getting Issue 2 on the ballot. When he realized that there was a possibility that the entire Senate Bill 5 could be tossed by the voters, he wanted to negotiate.
Donald R. Thompson October 20, 2011 at 11:22 PM
The Pro side likes to say it's about two issues...15% minimum healthcare contribution and 10% pension contribution. Well I reviewed the referendum petition summary and it lists 51 additional topics beyond pension and healthcare that will be changed to the detriment of employees. It amends or repeals over 110 sections of current Ohio law. VOTE NO ON ISSUE 2
Donald R. Thompson October 20, 2011 at 11:24 PM
Proof that the Gov. said many times THAT HE WOULD NOT BOTHER TO TALK TO UNION LEADERS http://www.700wlw.com/pages/onair_willie.html?article=9264347 LISTEN TO IT !!!!!!!
George Sklinchar October 21, 2011 at 01:40 AM
I read about these incredible pensions that public employees are getting and I can't figure it out. I am a state worker. I make $46,000 a year and after 23 years currently in PERS, if I retired tomorrow, I would be entitled to a grand total of $18,500 a year. My medical coverage would continue under my retirement program, but it would cost me $300 a month PLUS deductibles. I have been paying 20% for my medical benifits and 10% for my retirement account. Our department has not had a raise in the last two contracts ( 6 years) because even WITH binding arbitration the state comes back with "we are broke and we dont have anything to give you", so we just dont get any. We gave 20 days of unpaid furlough for the last two years and our concessions (though our union) has yielded over $200 millions dollars back to the state. As a public employee, I certainly do not see the incredible figures that are being touted here. We have given and given and still continue to give and nothing seems to be good enough. PLEASE vote NO on the upcoming election.
Ken Palosi October 21, 2011 at 01:50 AM
Phil is correct that pension payout will not be impacted significantly by SB5. Pension reforms are currently being addressed by the legislature in House Bill 69 and Senate Bill 3.
Jake Racketch October 21, 2011 at 11:58 AM
Are you serious, Ed? The state legislature WASN'T EVEN IN SESSION when Kasich and Batchelder staged that meeting! The way the Ohio House rammed it down the throats of the powerless Democratic minority (constituents be d*****!), without compromise, you really think that by union leaders showing up to that political sideshow (cameras set up with placecards, complete with large enough fonts so that cameras would catch them), that any sort of compromise could've been reached? In that 11th hour? With no prior signs of compromise? Without the legislature in session? With a ballot deadline looming? "He tried." Your opinion would be funny if it wasn't so frightening.
Jake Racketch October 21, 2011 at 12:01 PM
What I think is funny, is that people are saying to vote yes on issue 2 and turn around and say vote against another school or fire levy. AMAZING ! ! ! !
Jake Racketch October 21, 2011 at 12:01 PM
Thank you!
Ward Benson October 21, 2011 at 12:16 PM
You must not work in the education field. There is a great disparity between what some unions get and others depending on the powers that be. The education associations in this state are very powerful. That's why tenure is so amazing if you're a teacher or administrator. Stow, for example, has about 130 that make between $70,000 to $110,000 per average of 184 work days. Other districts are even more than that. We pay well and that's certainly a good thing, but when they cry there's still not enough it makes a voter scratch their head in wonderment expecially when many workers have taken pay cuts. This is one reason there's been such protests throughout the country and it's all over disparity between the haves and have nots, whether it the folks sitting under tarps in New York or other groups standing up to the constant rising taxes even though their own incomes have suffered. Obviously, this is unsustainable and we're all going to have to realize there are more job cuts coming not only for private workers, but public unions as well. We are in bad shape and we need to support each other and that doesn't mean raising taxes to help public workers. Yes, everyone is important, but we can only afford what we can afford. But, there is disparity between people like yourself, people like me and the others who haven't had the wage cuts yet like we have had. There will no doubt be more strikes coming. Greece is an example of where we are headed if some things aren't done soon.
Sarah October 21, 2011 at 06:06 PM
Consider yourself lucky George that you ONLY pay 20% into medical. Most people (private sector) pay 50% + deductibles if not more I don't know if the $300 is for you or family but either way when most people retire the pay the full amount.
DSR October 21, 2011 at 06:52 PM
Shouldn't we be working to make sure that NO ONE pays such exorbitant amounts for the basic right to good health care? Why fight to take away or deny benefits rather than fighting to insure that all have access without experiencing financial hardship? Why believe that there is no money to pay for this when taxes are reduced or eliminated for the wealthy, salary increases are granted for state elected officials and programs that take away rights are added and funded? Why aren't we fighting to make sure that you are not so heavily burdened with medical fees? Always before when rights were fought for by certain groups, the benefits won were extended to all - elimination of child labor, safe working conditions, 40 hour week, vacation and sick days, overtime pay, etc. Why not fight to bring everyone up rather than fight to bring everyone down?
Phil October 21, 2011 at 10:56 PM
To the people out there that actually believe that public sector workers make 43% more money than their private worker counter parts are being fooled. Do you believe everything you read? These stats don't reflect apples to apples comparison. Educate yourself and don't vote along party lines for this.,The governor is saying we don't pay into our pension or our health care at all, this is simply not the case. I have been paying into my pension and health care since day one and I started over 20 years ago. There are many lies being told by the Republican backed supporters of I.ssue 2..Ask yourself this simple question, how does this issue save the state money? The state does not pay me or supply me with any funds toward my pay check whatsoever. I have money deducted from my check that the state invests for me. I'm sure if the state wasn't making money on that deal, they would not be offering that service. Issue 2 will allow the state to hold funds back from the cities to try and pay down the STATE'S debt, they could care less about the cities. In order for them to short the cities they created issue 2 to allow the cities to attempt to short their workers. The city I work for, the state held back 25% this year ($400,000.00) and will hold back 50% next year. In order for my city to not raise taxes they came to the unions and asked us to give back. The give backs employees volunteered to give back is about $8,000.00 an employee. How come that was never put into the media.
Phil October 21, 2011 at 11:02 PM
That can't be the norm in the private sector. My father had a position with a well known bank in Cleveland for 45 years and he did not pay into his health care the last 20 years he worked their. He did pay into his pension system and now he collects double what I make and he is retired. So I don't feel your figure is accurate.
Phil October 21, 2011 at 11:09 PM
Mr Benson the uprising in say Greece for example isn't about public employees not taking pay cuts, it is about political greed, and changes to get corrupt leaders out of goverment. I think we need that here as well. These leaders have to be accountable for their actions. They serve one term and receive health benefits and a pension...for serving one term?? Why isn't that being discussed. Maybe we need to riot here, oh wait then we will count on the police to restore order and keep us safe. The very same police officers we are trying to take away from with this issue. Get real. This has nothing to do with issue 2. Once again the politicians are trying to turn the attention elsewhere so they can keep stealing, and it's working.
Jake Racketch October 22, 2011 at 04:52 PM
Mr. Benson, I do thank you for mentioning that "Other districts are even more than that," when you mention how many teachers and administrators make $70K+. As has been stated on numerous posts on many articles on Stowpatch, Stow is among the four lowest of the fourteen Summit County public school districts when it comes to administrative AND instructional cost per pupil. However, I do not necessarily mention this as a good thing! Having seen the revolving door of administration in some SMFCSD buildings, I believe our administrator pay is too low. I think that by eliminating the Business Manager, Assistant Superintendent, and a HS assistant principal, the savings should have been passed on to our building principals to ensure that we can retain the good ones. While Echo Hills and Lakeview kept longtime, quality administrators, Kimpton has been unable to retain difference-making principals for over a decade! Part of the problem is that middle schools are naturally stepping stones to high school principal jobs. But I believe the Excellent rating success at Kimpton is happening in spite of this inconsistent administrative leadership. Like you, I believe such salaries for difference-making educators is appropriate and deserved but hard to sustain in such difficult economic times, so I'm not suggesting a pay raise is in order. I only wish to provide another lens with which to view the administrative costs of SMFCSD.
Jake Racketch October 22, 2011 at 04:55 PM
Please show proof when you make such statements Sarah... I've yet to read ANYTHING that states that "most" (unless you are using this term to inappropriately) pay 50% of their health benefits. Please check the facts.
Dosa Ryality October 22, 2011 at 06:43 PM
Have any of you actually read the bill, or are you counting one the rhetoric from your union representatives? Geez, people, get the facts. If you don't pass Issue 2 with reasonable concessions to keep your jobs, you won't have them soon. Lots of private sector people made some concessions in 2008, with the result that we are still working. I am sick of the public sector employees telling all of what to do. You are spending OUR money, and I am tired of the whining.
mm3264 October 22, 2011 at 06:57 PM
Dosa did I read you correctly? Did you say, "WAA, WAAA, WAAAA, You are better educated than me, you took jobs that paid less for security, you made better life choices than me, my bosses made me make concessions so they could make more profit, I want what you have but I don't want to make the sacrifices involved, if I can't have what you EARNED I want them to take yours away!!!! WAAA, WAAA, WAAA"
william October 22, 2011 at 07:45 PM
" U.S. manufacturers have seen a steady uptick in profits since bottoming out in late 2008, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau." MSNBC report. How is this possible ? All companies are being taxed to death.
Tonto October 22, 2011 at 07:57 PM
donate - www.buildtheborderfence.com
Jake Racketch October 22, 2011 at 08:29 PM
Dear cleverly named Mr or Ms. Ryality, I'd be willing to bet I've read it more than you. The most recent time was when I used a pen and a highlighter. To which part are you referring as you describe "reasonable concessions"? Surely not 3317.13 that requires educators to go to a merit pay system, which is laughable in such a field. No? How about 3313.202, in which the language gives no cap for health-benefits contribution? YOUR money is being spent on the education of your child and your community's children. If a better way can be found to spend it, it certainly can't be under the provisions of an immensely flawed bill.
Terry October 24, 2011 at 01:59 AM
Sorry, that's disingenuous. This is objectively as controversial as a ballot measure gets, and saying so does not disallow people from making up their own minds about it. Patch was right on in calling it that.
Donald R. Thompson November 03, 2011 at 09:35 PM
Union Busting ONLY (nothing to do with saving ANY money) sections of ISSUE 2: 1. 30% decertification petition demonstrating that 30% of the employees of a unit support the decert petition 2. Expanding the definition of "supervisor" within Fire and Police Dept.'s 3. Removes Lt. rank from Fire Dept. bargaining unit 4. Removes fair share fee from all union contracts 5. Eliminates the ability of the parties to submit disputes to an agreed-upon dispute resolution procedure. 6. Requires the legislative body of the public employer to be the final decision maker with respect to any dispute that remains unresolved. 7. Expands the list of unfair labor practices that may be committed by an employee organization and limiting those that may be committed by the employer 8. Repeals the provision requiring the Public Employee Collective Bargaining law to be liberally construed.


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