Middle class pushes back

Reflecting on the results of a referendum, a U.S. legislator proclaimed the middle class pushed back with a first-ever vote of its kind on the ballot regarding public policy.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown discussed Wedmesday the significance of Ohio voters defeating Issue 2 and thus rejecting Senate Bill 5, which stripped public unions of some of their bargaining rights.

“Ohioans voted overwhelmingly to put the middle class first, this was the first time in our nation’s history that there was a statewide vote on collective bargaining rights,” Brown told the media during a teleconference. “If you pay attention to history, you know that collective bargaining, starting with the Wagner Act and what came out of those days, is the single biggest reason we have a strong middle class in this country.

“I think Ohioans — whether they belong to unions or not and if they belong to unions, whether they are public or private sector — I think that in overwhelming numbers they saw that we need a strong middle class,” he said, “And collective bargaining rights have provided a path to the middle class for hundreds of thousands of workers who belong to unions and for hundreds of thousands of workers who do not belong to unions.”

Senate Bill 5 restricted union rights of government workers by requiring employees to pay at least 15 percent of their health insurance premium and stripped them of their right to strike. Firefighters and police officers already agreed to not strike as part of a deal made with the state in the 1980s.

Passage of Issue 2 would have upheld the law, while the issue’s defeat would make the bill moot.

In Ohio, 2.1 million voters, or 61 percent, voted to reject the law, while 1.3 million, or 39 percent, supported the bill. In Auglaize County, the issue was defeated by a slim margin with 8,128 voters, or 50.91 percent, voting to reject the law, and 7,836, or 49.09, voting to approve the law.

“Having rejected this effort to divide us, we must work together to strengthen our state’s middle class and promote job creation,” Brown told the media. “Politicians along the way have lost sight of our shared goal of putting our middle class first — just as the middle class doesn’t happen on its own, it doesn’t unravel on its own.

“Last night (Tuesday) Ohio took a very big step toward rebuilding that middle class by rejecting Issue 2,” he said. “The basic right to collectively bargain was threatened by Senate Bill 5, an d an extreme agenda in Columbus.”

He noted last November’s gubernatorial race centered on jobs, but he claimed Gov. John Kasich and members of the Legislature passed legislation focused on dividing the people on collective bargaining rights. In other states, governors and state legislatures tried to make inroads on dividing the middle class based on voting rights and women’s rights.

The U.S. senator from Ohio pointed out that the blame for the state’s financial crisis did not start with workers as implied by Senate Bill 5.

“Let’s be clear, it wasn’t teachers and firefighters and police officers that caused Ohio’s budget crisis or that caused the economy to tank — it was the financial crisis on Wall Street that created this,” Brown said. “Budget deficits came from that, not from the salaries and the benefits that our public workers earned.

“We rejected last night (Tuesday) a divisive ideological agenda, and our mission now is to continue to build a strong middle class, to help people become part of the middle class,” he said.

He also pushed his agenda before Congress to deal with the Chinese currency manipulation, to promote manufacturing in Ohio and other states and to support veterans searching for jobs.

He said the vote on the state issues sets up the litmus test for voters regarding legislators and where they should stand regarding the election in 2012 — “are you on the side of the middle class or not and Ohio was a resounding voice for the middle class.”

“I think in the end that grass root activism trumps oil company money and Chinese money and in the end voters will say whose side they are on and they did,” Brown said. “When I hear the term class warfare, it is clear that there has been class warfare from the top aimed at the middle class in this country, and the middle class pushed back in Ohio last night.”