The urgency of the effort to repeal the law that strips public employees of their collective bargaining rights in Ohio is clear. Nearly 700 workers and their families gathered early on Oct. 29 at the North Shore AFL-CIO in Cleveland for a get-out-the-vote rally before heading out to canvass neighborhoods and to make phone calls. Election Day, Nov. 8, is fast approaching, and Ohioans have been relentless in the effort to restore workers' rights by encouraging citizens to vote "No" on Issue 2.
"You are here because you understand what the stakes are. The tenacity, perseverance and solidarity I see here are what transform moments into movements," said AFT president Randi Weingarten, who joined the workers at the rally along with Ohio Federation of Teachers president Sue Taylor, Cleveland Teachers Union president David Quolke and Ohio AFL-CIO president Tim Burga.
"It's not just a fight for Ohio," Weingarten said. "It is a fight for the country. No one wants a handout in America. We want dignity and respect; but we need a voice for that, and that voice is embedded in unionism. Know that with a voice for workers comes a voice for community."
Michelle D. Walton, a math teacher with the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union, agreed with Weingarten. "This is the civil rights battle of our age," Walton said. "I'm telling members of my community to vote. We can't be complacent; we have to be foot soldiers in this fight."
"My children have no voice in this fight, so I am speaking for them," said Cleveland Teachers Union member Diana Jones, who teaches kindergarten. "This law impacts all of Ohio and the families that we service. We have to support this [repeal] effort."
Carolynn Pen, a library media specialist and CTU member, is upset with how educators are portrayed by the opposing side of this effort. "It's frustrating to hear all of the untruths, like how much money we make." Pen, who was laid off in the spring but was able to get her job back, is a single mother and says it's been a real struggle for her. She is glad that the repeal effort has brought unions and the working class together.
A diverse collection of union members turned out for the rally. Teamsters, firefighters, nurses, bricklayers and others stood shoulder to shoulder with educators, ready to fight. Jim Embrescia from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers was among them. "I'm here for our brothers and sisters," he said, "because an attack on one sector of labor is an attack on all sectors."
As the rally wrapped up and volunteers headed out to knock on doors, Weingarten stopped by a CTU phone bank to say thanks to all the Cleveland members who have made hundreds of thousands of calls. Paraprofessional Joanne Qunnie is proud to be one the most productive CTU members, having volunteered for more than 15 phone banking sessions. "It's for a good cause, and I will fight for anything I feel is right," she said. "Besides, if you don't get involved you don't know what your future holds." [Adrienne Coles/photos by Janet Century/video by Brett Sherman]
October 31, 2011