March 9, 2011

Cornell Students Aid Protests at Ohio State University

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COLUMBUS, OHIO — The Cornell Organization for Labor Action journeyed to The Ohio State University to join students in protest against proposed changes to the state’s public sector bargaining law last weekend.

In a 17-to-16 vote on March 2, the Ohio State Senate passed SB-5, a bill that, if enacted, would limit public sector bargaining to base wages and curtail the ability of county and municipal authorities to bargain with their employees.

Ohio Governor John Kasich defended SB-5 as necessary to balance the state’s $8 billion deficit, arguing it would help stimulate the state’s economy.

The bill, however, has drawn national criticism, as well as opposition from Cornell students and faculty. Members of COLA compared SB-5 to Wisconsin’s controversial SB-11, which also limits public sector bargaining.

Working with the Ohio State branch of United States Against Sweatshops, COLA members distributed leaflets against the bill, helped coordinate a protest scheduled for Thursday and ran a phone bank for the Ohio AFL-CIO.

Although the trip’s organizers initially struggled to finance transportation, they were aided by donations from several faculty members, including Prof. Rebecca Givan, collective bargaining. Givan said she was glad that she and others could support COLA.

“I think a lot of people feel that if they can’t go to the protests themselves, they can help out, whether that means gas money, sending pizza or other forms of support,” she said.

Givan said she hopes COLA’s activism will spread to other groups on campus and across the country.

“It’s exciting to see COLA so engaged in important national issues. There’s a long tradition of student activism, and this might be the next wave,” she said.

One member of COLA, Molly Beckhardt ’14, said the experience she gained from the trip was unlike anything she could have learned on campus.

“It felt very empowering as a student to know how much support we have through USAS and how strong coalitions can be,” she said. “The trip kept things in check. There are a lot more important things than your next prelim.”

While COLA members were glad to assist the protests in Ohio, they said that the issues at stake are of national importance.

Wisconsin native John Ertle ’11 discussed similarities between Ohio and his home state.

“What’s going on in Wisconsin and Ohio are not merely isolated struggles; this is, in fact, a concerted effort by the political right to take out organized labor at its knees,” Ertle said. “They know that if labor’s remaining power is curtailed, it will help conservatives at the polls, and the collateral damage done to working people in the process is clearly not of much concern to them.”

Ohio State students, who have held their own rallies and are planning more, were even more vocal in their dissent.

“What we’re trying to do is show people this is not just about SB-5,” said Ohio State senior Ryan Marchese, president of the university’s USAS branch. “It’s about middle class jobs and having one when we and future Ohio students graduate.”

Natalie Yoon, secretary of Ohio State’s USAS branch and a sophomore at the university, agreed with Marchese.

“We’re not just fighting for unions. We’re fighting for human rights,” Yoon said.

Union organizers across Ohio welcomed the student activism.

Andy Richards, communications director for the Ohio AFL-CIO, expressed his appreciation for the actions of USAS, COLA and other student protesters.

“Students have really stepped up on this. It’s amazing to see the solidarity of them standing together as working people,” Richards said.

Students, however, are only a part of a broader mobilization against the bill.

Eddie Parks, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, said community organization could be the most important factor in defeating the bill.

“If we get community support … we’ll have a movement,” Parks said. “When the Civil Rights movement was won and when the Women’s Rights movement was won, it was not an organization pushing it, it was a community.”

Original Author: Matthew Rosenspire