Senate Bill 5 has and will affect union lobbying in two ways. While the legislation’s passage has galvanized unions through repeal efforts, the bill has the potential to diminish both union membership and influence on politics.
“The initiation of SB 5 has reinvigorated the labor movement in Ohio,” said John Russo, an advocate for labor unions and co-director of the Center for Working Class Studies at Youngstown State University.
Through petitioning, the union populace registers Democratic voters for the upcoming election, as well as the 2012 election.
Will Bagnola, president of the Youngstown Education Association, agrees with Russo.
It has awoken a sleeping giant, both Bagnola and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, along with numerous other union members and Democratic politicians, have said.
Bagnola said he believes the legislation is merely political and not a budgetary measure as the governor has suggested. But while the YEA and other unions mobilize by petitioning for a ballot referendum, some experts believe that public anger toward public sector unions is exactly why the governor was elected and why the legislation was proposed.
But unions have long bedded with Democrats to pass middle class legislation. But the relationship has backfired at times.
The 2010 election of Gov. John Kasich was a result of Democratic disapproval of the Obama administration’s stimulus spending, Russo said. The stimulus money had little impact on manufacturing and infrastructure, programs that employ mostly private sector union members. Stimulus money did, however, have a significant impact on educators and growth in government programs, which mostly employ public sector union members.
Decreasing union membership in the private sector and growing membership in the public sector have nearly equaled one another. While private sector unions make concessions, losing ground and membership, public sector unions gain in volume and influence. The effectiveness in electioneering and lobbying legislation is based on ability to garner support for a candidate.
According to OpenSecrets.org, a nonpartisan, nonprofit independent researcher tracking money in politics and government, 14 of the top 20 all-time campaign contributors have Democratic leanings and four are on the fence. All 14 democratic contributors are union based. The second highest campaign contributor is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — a public sector union.
In 2008, Hattie Wilkins, a resident of the North Side of Youngstown and former union president for 200 employees at Brentwood Originals, rallied her constituents for health care. Her efforts landed her in the unemployment line, a clear case of diminished power in local private sector unions. But many union members in the Mahoning Valley share her support for President Barack Obama and his health care reform.
“When he ran for office, he said he was gonna get everybody health care. And I’m glad he’s sticking to his guns,” Wilkins said.
If the Supreme Court rules universal health care as unconstitutional, or Republicans thwart health care reforms, Wilkins’ and union support for Obama will tumble like a house of cards.
Ohio Education Association lobbyist Matt Dotson said SB 5, if not overturned, will diminish the voice of the teachers he lobbies for. It will take away his ability to advocate for the support and resources teachers need to be successful, Dotson said.
Russo agrees that SB 5 will silence many workers in the region. These workers represent the unions that have mobilized to elect Democrat presidents and successfully lobby for legislation in the past.
“In 1992, the labor unions and community groups teamed together and turned the election with an amazing organizing campaign to get Bill Clinton elected,” Russo said, adding that Republicans swept Ohio elections in 1994. Upset over welfare reform and the North American Free Trade Agreement, which union members and workers felt did not go far enough, Russo said Ohio voters, many of whom were union workers, voted gays, guns and God in 2000, not making a definite distinction between Al Gore and George Bush.
The cycle of electioneering and promises will play out in the 2012 election, just as it did when Kasich rallied support for SB 5 by pointing out rampant spending in salaries, pensions and health insurance for public sector unions. If unions fail to meet the more than 231,000 petition signatures needed for a ballot referendum in the fall, the Democratic turnout for a successful ballot referendum next year may mean the demise of the Republican majority in Ohio government.