Attacks on Worker Rights Can Be Defeated, Says Ohio AFSCME Leader
Joseph P. Rugola
“They’re not finished with us yet.”
That’s one of the key lessons for labor following last November’s overwhelming repeal of an Ohio law that would have stripped collective bargaining rights from 350,000 public service workers in the state, says Joseph P. Rugola, executive director of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees OAPSE/AFSCME Local 4.
Rugola, also an AFSCME International vice president, made his comments this week during a panel discussion on the politics of collective bargaining in the public sector hosted by the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, a program at Georgetown University that draws on its academic and research capabilities “to find new approaches in improving labor and workplace relations.”
Referring to right-wing politicians and corporate backers of Gov. John Kasich’s anti-worker law, Senate Bill 5, Rugola said, “Whatever they learned from the rebuke that they suffered last November, to them, is only a tactical setback. It’s not a strategic setback. They view it as a skirmish in a battle that is part of a larger war” against the middle class.
He was joined on the panel by Joseph McCartin, associate professor of history and director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative; Craig Becker, visiting associate professor of law at Georgetown Law and former member of the National Labor Relations Board; Mahlon Mitchell, state president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin; and Eleanor Clift, contributor for Newsweek and The Daily Beast.
“The bottom line is we best not celebrate much” from the Ohio victory “because they are much emboldened by developments around the country,” Rugola said. “Their long-term goal is to get us out of the way.”
Rugola said the labor movement can defeat a concerted effort by the enemies of collective bargaining if it learns the key lessons that made the Ohio victory possible. They are: start early on any campaign to get a repeal initiative on the ballot, display message discipline during that campaign, and foster solidarity among unions and coalition allies.
“We did something I think is probably a first. We scared away the big right-wing money. They never invested,” he said. “The other side will not spend a dime unless they know that they’re going to profit from it in an immediate way.”
That made a huge difference in the outcome, he said, “because they couldn’t compete with us down the home stretch.”
Defeating those who want to undermine worker rights is possible, “when we’re doing things in a smart way, in a right way,” Rugola said.