Unions Under Attack Across the US

BlogHer Original Post

Unions across the United States have been under attack this week as states like Ohio and Wisconsin are working to pass bills that would end collective bargaining -- among other things. The tension has been high in the state capitols of Columbus and Madison, with thousands of supporters and opponents verbally clashing and raising the volume to that of a chainsaw... or twelve.

P1060206Ohio's proposed bill, Senate Bill 5 (SB 5) hits all union workers, every last one of them, and public employees. Teachers, firefighters, librarians, nurses, police officers, road crews; the list goes on and on. The bill aims to remove collective bargaining, removes teachers' guaranteed sick days, removes pay increases for experience and education and so on. The Capitol has been inundated with union members and supporters as well as supporters of the bill including Tea Party members. While Ohio's Senate is ruled by Republicans (23-17), it's not an easy win. While all Democrats plan on voting no, some GOP Senators think the bill, as it is, goes too far.

Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Fairlawn, said he doesn't believe the system is functioning as well as it should, but "I think that reforming collective bargaining doesn't mean getting rid of it. I believe in the right of people to gather as a group and advocate on their behalf."

As I now live in Ohio and am married to a professional firefighter, I've been following that battle closely. It's been an emotional one and I've had to step away from following the #sb5 hashtag from time to time. I finally had to give up and walk away from the news on Friday evening after I learned that the same national budget cuts that rocked Planned Parenthood also affect firefighter grants. I was just wading through that news when my husband came home from a 36 hour shift which involved three fires in the final five hours of that time period. I decided we would turn off the news and go eat steak. He earned it.

In Wisconsin they are experiencing a similar attack on unions and collective bargaining. This bill, however, splinters the unions into groups, exempting unionized public safety workers (firefighters, police officers and so on) from the bill while attacking teachers and other public workers. Despite being exempt, the Wisconsin Firefighters Union isn't supporting the bill, not wanting others to suffer. On Thursday they marched through the streets and eventually into the statehouse -- bagpipes, dress uniforms and all.

Other unaffected union members from outside the Wisconsin borders are planning rallies in support of the fight happening in Madison. Minnesota AFL-CIO is planning a rally on Tuesday, as is Iowa.

Despite support from non-affected unions and a huge turnout from protesters, things aren't going so well in Wisconsin, and the Democrats recognized that, choosing to not show up for the vote. Their hope was to "slow this down because it's an extreme piece of legislation that's tearing this state apart," Sen. Jon Erpenbach said. As you might imagine, that didn't go over well with lots of people. Perhaps that's what tainting the coverage, but Media Matters is accusing Fox News of Tea Party bias. As a general note: Protests aren't "thuggery" nor are they throwing "temper tantrums." Whatever the case, Wisconsin Democrats remained absent on Friday, stalling the vote again in hopes of giving people more time to be heard.

New Jersey is dealing with its own issue as government workers fear for their hard earned pensions, though NJ Governor Christie did make a statement that it's "not a New Jersey issue." Other states are watching what's happening in Wisconsin and Ohio closely. California's Governorn said he won't target collective bargaining just yesterday, though he will seek pension reforms and a lower-cost "core health plan" for state employees. Indiana seems to be fast-tracking their "right-to-work" bill with a vote set for 9am on Monday. North Dakota is taking a hard look at pensions as well. I learned from Tennessee Guerilla Women that a union busting plan is in the works in Tennessee as well, this one specifically targeting teachers.

All of this might feel like it means nothing to you. I think the C2 blog put it best:

You’re not in a union – why should you care? Wages, benefits and working conditions are a market like anything else. You may not be in a union, but you are in some way affected by organized labor’s pursuit of a better deal for workers. The impact for you of a labor market without a strong organized component may not be apparent now, but an increase in declining or stagnant wages are in store for the future in an America where workers have no organized voice.

As I said on my blog earlier this week, this doesn't have to be a partisan issue. Ohio Republicans have shown that they care more about the people and less about their party in their voting. I hope we can all do the same.

The following list contains posts from Ohio, Wisconsin, New Jersey and elsewhere as bloggers react to the news. This list contains people who are for and against the efforts currently underway. It is, largely, a female response (this being BlogHer). Also, I tried to keep out posts with rampant name-calling, but that proved difficult on all sides. If you've written a post, please share it with us in the comments.

If anything good can or has come out of all of this, the silver lining might be renewed sense of political activism. I can vouch for the thought as I've been witnessing some people in my life who haven't previously been active in things taking up the cause -- on both sides. I respect that for what it is and encourage others -- no matter your belief -- to better educate yourselves politically. I'm most upset we can't make it into the Ohio Capitol for Tuesday's final hearing. No matter the outcome, history is being made across our country these days. Pay attention.

Contributing Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is a freelance writer and photographer.

Photo Credits: Progress Ohio, featuring firefighters from Cambridge, Ohio | sdharwadker. Please check out his sets from day one and day two of protests in Wisconsin. | Original for BlogHer

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