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Thousands swarm Statehouse protesting plan to end collective bargaining

Mitch Andrews / Lantern Photographer

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Thousands of protesters flooded the Ohio Statehouse on Tuesday, but many were left out in the cold.

For hours, Statehouse doors remained locked, guarded by Ohio State Troopers. Crowds protesting Senate Bill 5, which would eliminate collective bargaining for state employees, gathered outside, attempting to enter the building.

“It’s outrageous that they would lock people out of the People’s House,” state Rep. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, told The Lantern inside the packed Statehouse. “I’ve been here since 1983; I’ve seen all kinds of demonstrations. Never have I seen people locked out of the Statehouse, highway patrol on the doors, prohibiting them from coming in.”

State Rep. Ronald Gerberry, D-Youngstown, one of three Democrats in the general assembly who were there in 1983 when collective bargaining was passed, had a similar reaction.

“I was appalled this morning, early this afternoon, when I came to the Statehouse and the doors were locked,” Gerberry told The Lantern over the roars of protesters inside the Statehouse. “In my career – this is my 23rd year in the House – I have never seen the doors locked.”

The crowd outside the Statehouse was gathering about 1 p.m., when the doors were locked, and at 3:30 p.m. the doors remained closed as protesters stood outside chanting, “Let us in!”

“We are willing to stand out here to talk,” said Steve Nash, a firefighter from Solon, Ohio, standing in 27-degree weather and light snow. “And if (Kasich is) not willing to come out, then that proves why we need collective bargaining.”

Nash, 46, traveled about 160 miles from Northeast Ohio with others from the Solon Firefighters Association, Local 2079, to protest Senate Bill 5.

State Rep. Denise Driehaus, D-Cincinnati, called the protest “democracy in action.”

“People want to participate in what’s being done,” Driehaus told The Lantern. “They want to have a voice, and so they came to the People’s House to make sure their voice is heard.”

Driehaus said a smaller protest took place at another Senate Bill 5 hearing Thursday and that the chants were so loud it was difficult to hear the deliberations.

Outside, the crowd wielded anti-Senate Bill 5 signs and chanted, “Kill the bill!” The bill they were protesting will, if passed, eliminate the collective-bargaining abilities of state workers and replace them with a merit-based system. Negotiating power of police officers, firefighters and teachers would be restricted. Police and firefighters still would not be able to strike. Teachers could still go on strike – but schools would be able to hire permanent replacements.

One teacher from the Columbus City School District said she became a teacher to serve students but that this bill would make it more difficult for her to do so effectively.

“Class size is one of the things we bargain,” said Diana Turner, 46, a member of the Ohio and Columbus education associations who teaches high school juniors and seniors. “If someone who hasn’t been in a class for years tries to come in and determine that for us, it won’t be in the best interest of the students.”

The protesters dispersed about 8 p.m., said a state patrol officer on duty at the Statehouse. The officer would not comment on why the doors had been locked.

Republicans tout the bill as an effective way to create jobs and “set the table for economic growth.”

Rob Nichols, press secretary for Gov. John Kasich, said only that Kasich supports Republican state Sen. Shannon Jones, who sponsored the bill. But on Monday, Kasich told FOX News, “We have to give local government officials a way to be more efficient and more effective in the delivery of services, and we have to give them the flexibility they need to manage their costs, including labor.”

Repeated attempts to contact Jones and Ohio State College Republicans were unsuccessful.

Democrats, on the other hand, call the bill a direct attack on the middle class, saying it will be a detriment to public servants.

“We, as students, can understand that this affects not only people who we care about,” said Matt Caffrey, president of OSU College Democrats. “If we lose this fight, we’ll be so much worse off when we graduate.”

Sykes said state workers need to keep their ability to collectively bargain.

“I was here in 1983 when we approved the collective-bargaining bill,” Sykes said. “At that time we had a lot of problems with work stoppages, with strikes. … The result was … the collective-bargaining law.”

 

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