Nearly 1,000 people gathered in Strongsville in a steady, cold rain Tuesday to rally against Senate Bill 5, one of 13 such protests held simultaneously throughout Ohio.
Strongsville firefighters Tom Zinn and Chuck Zerman said they would stay at their posts despite the foul weather.
"We'll be here," Zinn said. "Somebody's got to fight this."
Protesters on the City Commons chanted "Kill the bill" and held signs reading "Workers' rights are human rights" and "It's about freedom" for passing motorists on routes 42 and 82 to see.
Stand Up for Good Jobs and Strong Communities, which calls itself a a coalition of faith, community, student, labor and civil rights, organized the 13 regional protests to send a loud message to state lawmakers, who appear poised to pass the controversial bill limiting employee collective bargaining rights.
"We hope this creates a bigger impact," said Debbie Kline, coordinator of Cleveland Jobs with Justice, which helped organize the Strongsville rally along with North Shore AFL-CIO Federation of Labor. "This will help build the momentum and excitement."
Teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees from throughout the region attended the rally, including representatives from Cleveland Heights, Brecksville, Lakewood, Westlake, Avon, Avon Lake, Beachwood, Mayfield and dozens of other communities. took place in Akron.
“I’m here to help kill this bill. I’m a member of a union, and it’s the unions who picked us workers up by our bootstraps and allowed us to provide for our families," said Graylon Keeton, RTA field supervisor and Cleveland Heights resident. "The majority of us are Democrats, and, in my opinion, we’re a strong part of the Democratic base. Republicans see that, and we’re under attack.”
Ari Klein, first vice president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union, said he had 70 people committed to attending on Monday, but he hoped more would join.
The crowd cheered Tony Hunt, president of the Strongsville Firefighters Association, Local 2882, who said public employees should not be blamed for Ohio's budget deficit.
"Our firefighters and paramedics have made those type of concessions they're asking for," Hunt said.
Tracy Linscott, president of the Strongsville Education Association, added that "we are public servants, and the work we do should not be attacked and demonized.
"The future of Ohio should be a race to achieve prosperity, not a race to the bottom," Linscott said.
Senate Bill 5, which passed the Ohio Senate by one vote and is awaiting action in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, would severely limit collective bargaining abilities, banning strikes and establishing penalties for those who participate in walkouts.
While unionized workers could negotiate their wages, hours and some working conditions, they could no longer bargain for health care, pension benefits or sick time.
The measure would eliminate automatic pay raises and base wage hikes on merit.
The legislation also would set up a new process to settle employee disputes, giving elected officials the final say in contract disagreements. Binding arbitration, which police officers and firefighters use to resolve contract disputes as an alternative to strikes, would be eliminated.
Harriet Applegate, executive director of North Shore AFL-CIO, urged the crowd to call their state representatives and demand they vote against the bill.
She said Strongsville was chosen for one of the rallies because it represents middle-class America.
"It's a typical suburb where people work hard and pay their taxes," Applegate said.
Evan Yeats, a coordinator for Stand Up, said the coalition's supporters are not just union members, but people who fear that Senate Bill 5, coupled with proposed state budget cuts, will negatively affect schools, safety and public works.
"I think people are genuinely concerned about what this holds for the services they've enjoyed," Yeats said.