Lee A. Saunders, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, says it is important for Ohio residents to vote no on today's ballot initiative because it would repeal a measure passed eight months ago that limits the power of unionized public workers to participate in collective bargaining.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich and his allies are pulling out all the stops in hopes that Issue 2, a ballot measure that will disproportionately hurt African-American workers, will be approved.
But their falsehoods and deceptive tactics won't do any good. We must vote "No on Issue 2" because it is the right wing's attack on public-sector workers and public services. Issue 2 would rob the working middle class of their right to negotiate such crucial on-the-job matters as health care, outsourcing and staffing levels on nursing shifts, firefighting crews and in squad cars. Issue 2 hurts all the people who do the work that holds communities together — from teachers and social workers to snowplow drivers and building inspectors.
For many years, my dad was one of those public-sector workers. He was a bus driver in Cleveland. My family was one of the many African-American families that benefited from government employment. In fact, one-fifth of all public-sector employees are African Americans from coast to coast, meaning that the public sector is the largest employer of African-American workers in America.
Working in "a city job" or building a career in county or state government has long been considered a good option by African Americans — a way of making a living and making a difference. Furthermore, a study this year by the University of California, Berkeley found that African-American workers in the public sector face less inequality in wages and earn more money than those in other sectors. Taking away our right to weigh in on our working conditions and other issues will set us back years, if not decades, and may discourage young people from considering work in the public sector.
It's clear that Issue 2 would do irreparable damage, yet the radical politicians are actually claiming that a "yes" vote is pro-jobs, helps the middle class and supports the very public employees that would be harmed. Even the wording on the ballot was crafted to confuse voters.
We've also seen the ads tying Issue 2 to Issue 3, an anti-Affordable Care Act referendum. The opposition is courting the GOP voters who are staunchly against the president's health care plan by casting Issue 2 as a vote against "ObamaCare."
The conservatives also twisted the words of a great-grandmother who urged everyone to vote "No on Issue 2" and support the firefighters who rescued her great-granddaughter. The opposition distorted her message, using pieces of her ad to make it appear that she was in their corner. Had she not spoken out, they might have gotten away with this dirty trick.
The only way we can fight their misleading tactics is to cast our votes and persuade other voters in our families and neighborhoods that Issue 2 threatens to further cripple and bankrupt working middle-class families. The polling data are predicting that "No on Issue 2" will win by a large margin, but in reality, the only polls that count are the ones that open on Tuesday. That's why it's so important for Ohio voters to fight against complacency and cast their votes.
It is time for Main Street to rise up and beat down this effort to crush the American dream. Hardworking middle-class families will no longer be the scapegoat for the nation's economic woes. People who work in sanitation or in Ohio's community colleges — as my mother did for years as a teacher — didn't tank the economy. Therefore, they shouldn't bear the brunt of the blame while the richest 1 percent of Americans continue to rake in a quarter of the country's income and control 40 percent of the wealth.
Gov. Kasich's supporters are flooding Ohio with millions of dollars from Dick Cheney's daughter and the billionaire Tea Party supporters the Koch brothers. The Koch brothers made tons of money on everyday products including Dixie cups and Brawny paper towels — but they're fighting everyday people who only want a voice in the workplace.
In Wisconsin, voters made a huge statement this past summer when they recalled two state senators who voted to take away public service workers' bargaining rights. We can make history in Ohio, too. Make sure you are part of this historic moment by voting "No on Issue 2."
Lee A. Saunders is secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO.