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Labor Protests to Defend Collective Bargaining Rights Spread to Ohio

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In Ohio, tens of thousands are expected to pour into the State Capitol of Columbus today for a rally against Senate Bill Five. The measure would require state employees to abandon collective bargaining, pay more toward health insurance premiums, and switch to a so-called “merit-based” pay system. Republican Governor of Ohio John Kasich has said public employees who go on strike should lose their jobs. We speak to Donald Conley, operations director for Ohio Civil Service Association, the union that represents nearly 35,000 state employees in Ohio. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Ohio. We go directly to Columbus to Donald Conley, operations director for Ohio Civil Service Association, a union representing 34,000 of the state’s employees.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Tell us what your plans are for today. How many people do you expect out? And explain what Governor Kasich has introduced.

DONALD CONLEY: OK, first, we expect at least 10,000 people down at the State House today. Each time we have an event, the crowds swell, get larger. Ten thousand is a minimum. I wouldn’t be surprised to see twice that many. A lot of folks are coming from all over the state. In spite of bad weather, they’re all saying they will show up.

Senate Bill Five is the reason they’re demonstrating. And Senate Bill Five has been introduced to do — according to public statements, to do several things, most of which don’t need to be done. The Governor — I just heard on your segment before I came on the air, the Governor is talking about the right to strike. He wants to take that away. Well, since we’ve had collective bargaining in Ohio, our people haven’t gone on strike, period, not once. So, what right is he looking to enforce? That’s a false — it’s a straw man; it’s not real. He says that he wants fact finding to go away, or either disappear or make that a public finding. That’s how negotiations’ impasses are resolved, through fact finding. And the fact is that every time we’ve gone to fact finding, the day after the fact-finders’ report is in, it’s been in all the newspapers. So, those things don’t need legislation to happen; they’ve been happening all along. Our security forces, like the corrections officers who work in the prisons, never had the right to strike, to begin with.

So, the real question is, what are they really after? And the only real change — I mean, our people haven’t had a raise in five years. We’ve voluntarily taken pay cuts for the last two years. The only real change they seem to be after, if you read the bill, which is 500 pages long, is that they want to take away collective bargaining rights for public employees. That’s a power play. It’s an attack on the middle class and basic human rights for people who work for government agencies, whether it’s state, county or municipal government entities. There’s no two ways about it. What they’re saying in the media is not what they’re actually going for.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s very interesting. When you talk about the media, clearly Governor Walker’s poll ratings are going down, as the workers say they’re willing to go with basically all of the actual financial cuts that he’s talking about, whether to do with pension or health insurance, but they’re not willing to give up their collective bargaining rights, which means this is not the budget issue in Wisconsin that Governor Walker says it is. Do you feel like Governor Kasich is following the same playbook there?

DONALD CONLEY: Yeah, it’s pretty obvious. It’s a nationwide trend. When the sponsor of this particular bill, Shannon Jones, gave testimony to the Senate in Ohio, she was asked how much money — you know, they’ve been talking about the budget constantly. They use the budget. And she was asked how much money would this legislation save. She said she didn’t know. They asked her, “Will it save any money?” She said she didn’t know. And then they asked her, “Well, why are you introducing this if it’s not saving money?” And she got kind of nervous and told the truth. She said, “It’s my philosophy. We think that public employees should not have the rights that they have now.” And that’s what it really boils down to. You know, there’s an old saying in politics: never let a good crisis go to waste. We have a budget deficit looming, and they’re using that crisis as an excuse to go after the rights of public employees, part of the overall attack on the middle class.

AMY GOODMAN: Donald Conley, I want to thank you for being with us, operations director for Ohio Civil Service Association, the union that represents 34,000 state employees in Ohio.

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