Since Senate Bill 5 was first introduced in February, the Columbus Education Association (CEA) has aggressively fought the legislation to curtail collective bargaining rights for Ohio school employees and other public employee union workers through member activism. Organization, communication and member outreach to colleagues, neighbors, district alumni and friends have been key to the local’s successful work on the referendum to repeal the dangerous law.
CEA President Rhonda Johnson says the local association was organized long before SB 5 and that its infrastructure was crucial in supporting CEA efforts to make sure members attended rallies and participated in circulating and signing petitions.
“We took advantage of this crisis to become even more mobilized and motivated,” she says. Rhonda notes that effective communication—through email, cell phone and text messages, the CEA blog and newsletter and Facebook—has been invaluable.
“We’re doing what OEA taught us to do—communicate seven times in seven different ways,” she explains. “And we’re always looking for the eighth way.”
Of CEA’s success, their leader says, “Our members understand the importance of repealing SB 5 and the importance of collective bargaining in promoting not only the rights of public employees, but also social justice in making sure our students are successful and have the benefit of an excellent education.”
Entering the final week of signature collecting for the SB 5 referendum, 1,547 CEA members have signed a petition that’s been returned to OEA. Leading the way in terms of signatures turned in to CEA and OEA are Courtney Johnson (442 signatures), Tracey Johnson (402 signatures) and Paula Garfield (384 signatures). These three members are 2nd, 3rd and 4th statewide in terms of overall signatures turned in to OEA.
Courtney Johnson, a teacher at Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center, found success collecting member signatures at the OEA, signatures of colleagues after school and even those of Columbus City School alumni. She covered her polling place on Election Day evening, canvassed her neighborhood and joined firefighters for signing events as well.
Courtney’s greatest success came from her efforts in her home county, Lawrence, where she collected more than half of her signatures.
“My mother and I staged two impromptu signings at local graduation ceremonies where we also registered 25 new voters,” Courtney says. “I also helped the Shawnee Labor Council at its drive-thru Signing on Memorial Day.”
As she continues working with the goal of reaching 500 signatures this weekend at the Pride Festival, Courtney is thankful to everyone who volunteered as a circulator and to everyone who signed. “We can win this fight only by standing together against these attacks,” she says.
Tracey Johnson, a 20-year elementary and middle school teaching veteran currently working on behalf of CEA members as a staff consultant for her local, says that as an advocate for public education and the rights of all public employees, becoming a petition circulator “was simply the right thing to do.”
She reached out to fellow parishioners, and her pastor agreed to let her use the church as an avenue for getting signatures. “My pastor signed the petition in the pulpit one Sunday, and in between services I had a large table with several petitions laid out for people to sign. I collected approximately 270 signatures that Sunday,” Tracey says. She encourages others belonging to a church, sorority/fraternity or civic organization to utilize these avenues to collect signatures.
Tracey also volunteered to go to schools throughout Columbus after work hours to collect member signatures. At large events like CEA’s Legislative Assemblies and its recent middle school conference she made sure petitions were available. She carried petitions to meetings and used Facebook as a means to communicate about SB 5.
“I had my son complete his voter registration and sign the petition on his 18th birthday and posted pics on Facebook so people could see how important this was to me,” she says.
Tracey notes that being personable is key. “I asked with a smile and I graciously thanked them for their support…these are potential voters,” she says. Her best tip: “Be out there—signers will not come to you. Go to them.”