and Katie Wight, Matrix Editors
Issue 5: Online Only
Athens Community Center - Last Saturday, at least 331 teachers, firefighters, policemen, and community members flocked to the Community Center to voice their opinions on Senate Bill 5. Representative Debbie Phillips, a Democrat opposed to the bill, hosted the town hall meeting.
Several Athens High School teachers were in attendance, although none spoke at the meeting. However, other Athens City Schools teachers were more vocal. Kurt Nostrant, an eighth grade science teacher at Athens Middle School, was one of the most outspoken attendees of the event.
Nostrant brought a sign to the event that listed the combined ranks of the ACT and SAT scores of the five states who do not have collective bargaining rights: South Carolina (50th in the nation), North Carolina (49th), Georgia (48th), Texas (47th) and Virginia (44th).
Every speaker was against SB 5, and many told the audience about his or her experience with unions. Each story was followed by a round of applause and cheers from the audience.
Emotions and anger were high at the meeting and were often expressed in shouting, swearing or advocating for more provocative action, such as striking or protesting outside of Senator Jimmy Stewart’s house (One woman protested to this proposal, saying, “That’s not right. Peoples’ homes are sacred”).
Much of the anger on Saturday was directed at Stewart (R), who is on the fence concerning SB 5. Stewart has enjoyed the support of Unions and teachers in his past elections. During his last campaign in 2004, he signed a document stating, among other things, “I believe that unions play a key role in ensuring that quality jobs, that are essential to creating and sustaining a thriving economy, flourish within our local communities. I will publicly support workers who seek to affiliate with unions…” However, as majority leader of the Senate, he professionally is obliged to vote for bills behind which the Republican Party stands.
Stewart was called “manipulative” by Nostrant for refusing to inform his constituents as to which parts of the bill he supported and which parts he did not.
Stewart’s house, work, and cell phone numbers were given out several times throughout the meeting; people were encouraged to call him as many times as possible until they received an answer from him.
One Republican spoke up at the meeting, although he too was opposed to SB 5. “How many Republicans are in this room who are being hurt by [SB 5]… who are member of the unions. Are they calling or emailing? I’ve called Stewart twice, never got an answer,” he said. ”It really makes me sick . . . This is not only hurting the Democratic side. We need to let our Republican legislatures know that we’ve been voting for them for years. I don’t know if they’re thinking about that.”
Many called for more action by the people; a few cited the recent successful protests in Egypt as an example of how Ohioans against SB 5 could be heard.
“I want you to look at the country of Egypt,” one woman said. ”In 18 days the people took down the government. The people spoke, they held firm, they did not fire a shot. President Mubarak fired a shot. We have gotten so far from where we started… Now that we’re being threatened, we need to stand up.”
Jim Wilhelm of Alexander Schools said, “I remember when the Meigs County teachers went on strike. I remember when the South Point teachers went on Strike. I remember when the Vinton County coal miners went on strike. It’s not too late for us… we can still do that; we can win.”
In an interview with Matrix, Phillips replied that a potential benefit of SB 5 is that it may save the $8 billion Ohio budget shortfall but claims that there are other ways to save the budget “without a direct attack on frontline employees.”
Phillips also stated that if the bill were to be voted on now, it would need four more Republicans to vote no. As of Saturday, three Republicans were against the bill and five or six were undecided. If the bill passes the Senate, it will proceed to the House, of which the majority are very conservative.
Regarding public school students, Phillips stated that it is, “possible that you would see larger classes and teachers leaving to go to other places where they would feel more secure” if SB 5 passed.
Senate Bill 5 proposes to strip public workers, including teachers, firefighters, and policemen, of their collective bargaining rights (the rights of unions to negotiate with employers concerning working conditions, wages, etc.