COLUMBUS – When it comes to repealing Senate Bill 5, State Representative Tracy Maxwell Heard doesn’t need anyone to tell her that what’s at stake in this is monumental,
By IKE MGBATOGU
COLUMBUS – When it comes to repealing Senate Bill 5, State Representative Tracy Maxwell Heard doesn’t need anyone to tell her that what’s at stake in this is monumental, both for Democrats in Ohio and even the prospects of reelecting President Barack Obama.
“If we fail to repeal SB 5, then that sends the message that we do not have unity or the will to take back the House [Ohio House of Representatives] in 2012 or secure President Obama in the White House,” said Heard, in a wide-ranging interview with the Call & Post last week.
SB 5, which was recently signed into law by Republican Governor John Kasich, but which is yet to go into effect, dismantled Ohio's collective bargaining laws that protect more than 350,000 public sector workers in the state, stripping them of their collective bargaining rights, including the right to strike against government, and requiring workers to pay at least 15 percent of their health insurance cost.
Under the new law, a wide panoply of issues previously negotiated between unions and government through collective bargaining and binding arbitration would no longer be decided that way, including deciding issues such as wages, grievance process, step increases, seniority, time-off, and others.
Heard, one of the harshest foes of the anti-union bill, identified two big challenges in the raging battle to defeat SB 5. One is to “maintain the momentum” and the other to convince Ohioans that the battle to bring down SB 5 should enlist all workers as soldiers, not just those in the public sector or just from the ranks of Democrats and labor unions.
Facing those challenges, Heard expressed cautious optimism about the victory she is intensely hoping for, even as she conceded that it is “quite an undertaking to keep focus, momentum and passion” about a ballot that’s still about six months away.
But the dram of worry embedded in her sense of optimism is not so much about not being able to argue the merits of annulling SB5. Instead, it is about being able to convince those who may not know that they would gain from the rout of SB 5 and that this is for them, too. The challenge, she said, is getting them to support the effort by, first, signing the petition as part of the ongoing drive to collect 231,000 signatures.
And then, of course, troop out in November to vote to deliver the final blow against a bill she bemoans as draconian.
“The first step is to get the signatures,” said Heard, warning that “if we don’t get that far, it is already over.” She warned of the dire consequences, saying, “We are trying to repeal a law that has passed.”
“The destruction of this law will affect all workers,” she said, not just the 350,000 public employees that have come to symbolize the potential victims of SB assault.
She noted the current “attack on comp time” as a small example of the kind of havoc that SB 5 will wreak on worker’s rights and benefits, including workers in the private sector.
“So it’s not just public employees. This is already trickling out to impact all workers,” said Heard.
Heard’s concern about sustaining the current upbeat momentum seems kind of prophetic after a recent poll by Quinnipiac suggested that SB 5 would be repealed if the votes were held now, by 18 points, with 54 percent voting against the bill, and 36 percent supporting it.