Ohio Labor

A Monthly Blog

Compiled By Marty Kich

AAUP-WSU home page

AAUP-WSU blog page

November 2011

[Click the links to pdf’s of the full articles.]

During the We Are Ohio campaign to repeal Senate Bill 5 by a referendum vote, members of unions across the state became more aware of each other and appreciative of each other’s efforts. Although the list is not completely up to date and the links to the unions’ websites will not work in the pdf, here is a list of all of the unions in Ohio.

As you do your holiday shopping, you may want to consult Shop with a Conscience. The pamphlet has been produced and distributed by Sweat Free Communities and the International Labor Rights Forum.

Although margin of the referendum victory was extremely gratifying, that victory did not mean an end to the attacks on working people or public employees in our state or elsewhere.  If changes are not made to the Ohio budget, there is no room for any “compromise” on any elements of Senate Bill 5 because the budget  was drafted to provide fiscal justification for Senate Bill 5—and not because Senate Bill 5 was an inescapable response to fiscal necessities. No one doubts that Ohio is facing serious economic challenges and budgetary constraints.  But if one considers the major sources of revenue that were eliminated in this budget—further reductions in the tax rates for the wealthiest Ohioans, elimination of inheritance taxes that disproportionately benefit the most affluent, huge tax reductions for Ohio’s utility and energy companies that have not been tied to reductions in the costs borne by consumers,  just to name several of those changes that have reduced revenue by billions of dollars—it is clear that partisan political choices have been conveniently and even cynically reframed as “required reforms.”

The police officers and firefighters in Middletown have been among the first to face the reality that the Ohio budget will have dramatic consequences at the local level because of draconian cuts in state support to counties and municipalities and school districts.  Adhering to the talking points voiced by supporters of Senate Bill 5, the Middletown mayor and city council have decided that “first responders” are something less than a first priority. The mayor has a clear record of antipathy toward unions and public employees that justifies charges that his actions in this instance continue to be driven at least as much by his personal political agenda as by fiscal realities.

In Findlay, Ohio, Cooper Tire, the nation’s fourth largest tire producer, has locked out production workers. Several years ago, workers at the Findlay plant agreed to major reductions in their compensation—$30 million in pay cuts and increased employee contributions to benefits—in order to keep the plant open as Cooper attempted to restore its profitability. But now, when the company is experiencing record profits and its upper-level management is being given huge pay increases as a reward for those record profits, the production workers have been locked out simply for asking for a $.50/hour raise: that is, the production workers have not “demanded” the raise by threatening a walk-out; they have simply asked for the raise as part of what they thought would be conventional negotiations over a new contract. The $.50/hour raise would amount to $20/week or $1040/year for each worker, and this amount represents just a modest portion of what they gave up three years ago to restore the company to profitability. As a point of comparison, the company earned $17.3 million in profits in the third quarter of 2011, and the president’s salary has increased from $2.6 million in 2008, the year that salary cuts for production workers went into effect, to $4.7 million in 2010, when the company reported record profits of $44.6 million in the third quarter. Apparently, the failure to sustain those record profits in 2010 has provided a justification for denying production workers modest raises but for continuing to increase the compensation of those in upper management. (The numbers cited here are taken from an article in the Toledo Blade and a press release from the AFL-CIO.)

But at least the president of Cooper Tire refrained from describing their workers as a cancer, which is exactly how Dave Berg, the president of American Crystal Sugar Company in Minnesota has described the workers that he has locked out of that company’s plants. (The second link provides an address to which contributions can be sent to a fund supporting those workers.)

In addition to supporting the first responders in Middletown and the locked-out workers at Cooper Tire and American Crystal Sugar, I encourage you to consider making a holiday contribution to support the families of the workers at Janesville Acoustics in Newcomerstown, Ohio. Their plant was completely destroyed by fire, and it is unclear whether it will ever be rebuilt and reopened.

Another initiative that fits with the spirit of the holidays is the AFL-CIO’s Work Connects Us All project. Workers of all kinds and from all corners of the country are being asked to describe their jobs as part of an art project that will illustrate the value and interconnectedness of all work.

Beyond what has been going on in states such as Ohio, there has been a sustained institutional attack against workers’ rights on the Federal level. At the center of these attacks have been repeated efforts to weaken the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  These efforts have included recurring attempts to defund the NLRB, persistent attacks on workers’ rights to free and fair elections, a strategy of inundating the NLRB with “nuisance” requests as a way of preventing it from effectively addressing core matters, and pernicious efforts to undermine the NLRB’s enforcement authority. These efforts have included all sorts of political gamesmanship and have prompted formal protests from workers across the country, including several faculty groups.

In a November 28 article for the Huffington Post, Barry Levinson conjures Abbott and Costello’s iconic “Who’s on First” routine to highlight the grim truths behind the “positive” job numbers for the month.

Several days earlier, in another article for the Huffington Post, Robert Scheer similarly framed the grimmer economic realities of our time in a piece with an unexpected tone--in this instance, a warm nostalgia for Thanksgivings past.

In the midst of a lot of disheartening economic news, Americans seem nonetheless to have spent record amounts on “Black Friday,” provoking all sorts of ironic, comic, and cautionary commentaries from editorial writers. These included Kevin Drum’s “The Real Story behind Black Friday” (in Mother Jones), Andrew Leonard’s “The Desperation of Black Friday” and “Black Friday: Consumerism Minus Civilization” (Salon), Coleen Rowley’s “Celebrating Spiritual Death on Black Friday” (Huffington Post), and Robert H. Frank’s “How to End the Black Friday Madness” (New York Times).