When my daughter started kindergarten, she was deemed secure enough to be placed next to the most rambunctious boy in the class. Her classmate, son of a formerly incarcerated man, quickly won us over with his humor, intelligence and infectious grin, if not always with his strict adherence to classroom expectations. But our well-resourced school system, which abuts a struggling neighborhood in Cleveland, also assigned gifted teachers and a much-beloved aide to that student. Five years later my daughter proudly tells me that her old kindergarten seatmate is a top math scholar in their fourth grade class.
Investments like that are what’s at stake in Ohio as the State Senate considers the brutal budget passed by the House, a bill that includes $2.1 billion in education cuts, a 9 percent reduction. These cuts, coupled with a bald attack on the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers, will further dampen an economy that has left Ohio riddled with foreclosed homes, displaced workers and troubled communities.
Official unemployment in Ohio stands at 8.9 percent, with more than 525,000 Ohioans searching for work. The state never recovered from the 2000–01 recession: it lost a staggering 650,000 jobs between 2000 and 2010, nearly one out of eight jobs. According to Cleveland-based economic research analyst George Zeller, over a similar period Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland, lost more than one in six jobs and well over one in three of the manufacturing jobs that once made this region an economic engine. For this and other reasons, job quality has declined precipitously. As an indicator of how much families in this state are struggling, a record four out of every ten schoolchildren in the state now qualify for subsidized lunch.
Although more and better jobs are what Ohio most needs, in mid-March Governor John Kasich introduced a budget that is sure to lead to dramatic job losses, with tens of thousands of public employees set to be laid off. Two weeks later, he signed a bill to reduce job quality in the public sector by drastically rolling back collective bargaining rights, outlawing strikes and giving local management more authority to resolve a negotiating impasse.
But community organizers, labor activists, teachers, firefighters and families of all income levels are not taking these rollbacks lying down. On the contrary, Kasich and his allies may have done the near-impossible—fostered solidarity among groups who don’t always understand their shared interests.
Even before the collective bargaining assault and the all-cuts budget came along, labor and community leaders were planting the seeds of a new coalition with the unwieldy moniker Stand Up for Ohio for Good Jobs and Strong Communities. The collective bargaining repeal, Senate Bill 5, dropped just as the group launched its Facebook page. The page got more than 115,000 fans in its first days, an unprecedented debut. But the group is not just fostering a Facebook revolution—it and other coalitions generated crowds of around 10,000 in the state capital twice this spring, the biggest Statehouse rallies in at least fifteen years.
“Elected officials told us that cutting taxes, privatizing services, reducing unionization, cutting regulation and encouraging more international trade would bring back good jobs and strong communities. It didn’t work,” said Seth Rosen, vice president of the Communication Workers of America District 4, in an interview after a fiery speech announcing Stand Up for Ohio at the dignified City Club of Cleveland. “Instead, it led to lower wages, fewer jobs, more debt and fewer resources to support the public structures, services and institutions that build communities. It did help enrich a lot of people, though—people at the top.”