Ravenna rallies against Senate Bill 5


Sally Burnell, of Kent, a public employee at the Akron Summit County Library, hugs Congressman Tim Ryan at the Rally to Save Ohio’s Middle Class on Monday. Burnell is two years from retirement and fears that her pension funds will be reduced. Photo by Philip Botta

Julie Sickel

More than 350 Portage County residents stood shoulder to shoulder yesterday evening as they crammed into the Ravenna Elks Lodge.

Immediately outside the lodge entrance, about 150 more people stood in 40-degree weather and listened to United States Congressman Tim Ryan’s voice broadcast over loud speakers. In front of the lodge, people lined North Freedom Street with brightly colored posters.

In recent weeks, union members across the state have banded together to protest Senate Bill 5. Monday’s Rally to Save Ohio’s Middle Class featured speeches from Ravenna union members and Ryan and illustrated a unified force as SB-5 moves to the House for a vote.

“You guys remember the stories, I heard them at Sunday dinner, about what the world was like without collective bargaining and without unions,” Ryan said. “No one should take away the right for workers in the United States to join together and say what their views are and what their side of the argument is.”

If SB-5 passes, it will take away collective bargaining rights for public workers. The legislation, supported by Gov. John Kasich, is meant to alleviate some of the state’s budget problems.

Ryan quoted facts from InnovationOhio.org to support his argument that SB-5 is not about the state budget.

“A kindergarten teacher in Ohio between ‘08 and ‘09 took a 6 percent pay cut. Middle school teachers over a 5 percent pay cut in Ohio. Now you take that and average it with the states that don’t have collective bargaining, they’ve had a 3.5 percent increase in wages,” Ryan said. “Getting rid of collective bargaining is not an issue of the budget, it’s an issue of politics and we’re going to stop them.”

Other speakers before Ryan included Steve Howell, a teacher from Garfield High School, Brad Ryzcek, a Ravenna firefighter and John Ryan, State Director for Sen. Sherrod Brown.

“Don’t tell me what you believe. Show me what you do, and I’ll tell you what you believe,” John Ryan said, quoting a civil rights leader. “Your presence here shows me what you believe.”

Several staff members from the Kent State University Employees Local 153 union attended the rally.

“We mainly want to show that the more they push this issue, the stronger we’re going to be, the more we’re going to pull together,” said Dave Schuckart of Campus Environment Operations. “It’s about respect, and right now we’re not getting any.”

Rebecca Thayer said she was disappointed that the rally started at 4:30 p.m., when most of the state workers get off at that time.

“It takes us 20 minutes to get over here from Kent State, and that’s on a good day,” Thayer said. “It does involve us. That’s the biggest employer in Portage County.”

Across the street from the lodge, supporters of Kasich and SB-5 gathered with signs and called out to protesters on the other side of North Freedom Street.

“This country’s going the wrong direction,” said Robert Longbottom, a retiree from Suffield Township. “They’re saddling the country with all this debt. The current administration is responsible for that, and people like Tim Ryan who support that administration are responsible.”

Bruce Veness, an executive for an information technology company in Kent and supporter of SB-5, said he feels the legislation isn’t about unions.

“I think that the private sector can no longer afford to support the public sector in the manner in which they’ve become accustomed. It’s as simple as that,” Veness said. “It has nothing to do with unions. It has to do with fiscal responsibility and the lack thereof.”

Contact Julie Sickel at [email protected].