CEA recognized for leading OEA in collecting signatures against SB5

Members of Woodcrest ES wore red on a Thursday during the 2010-2011 school year because Thursday was the day the Ohio Governor signed SB5 into law.

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.”

Brace yourself for attacks

"Brace yourself. 1-365" by Flickr user chelo.face.

The time period for gathering signatures on our petitions will soon end. Once the Ohio Secretary of State certifies that we have collected more than 231,000 registered voters’ signatures, S.B. 5 will be placed on the ballot in the November General Election and be subjected to the citizens’ veto.

Teachers, firefighters and police officers are some of the highest-trusted professionals in the United States. Despite this fact, we will be the target of an expensive and ugly political propaganda war waged by our enemies specifically designed to discredit us.

Soon, we will encounter ads on television, radio, the Internet and in print that will portray us as a lazy and opportunistic privileged class, unwilling to share the economic pain of the private sector. Our enemies will say that they are simply trying to fix Ohio and save the middle class, but they can’t because we stand in their way.

What our enemies will say about us will make our blood boil. As these attacks begin, it is only natural to want to blindly strike back in response, to do something, anything, in defense of our profession. We must take care not to burn ourselves out before the real battle begins. We must be strategic, measured and stay on message during the fight for our lives.

Take heart in the fact that we have been entrusted with that which is most precious to all Ohioans–their children. In the coming months, do not become discouraged and do not despair. We are all in this together. We will emerge victorious. We are CEA.

Courtney Johnson, proud member of TBS

CEA/TBS member Courtney Johnson testifies on Capitol Hill in March of 2011. Photo courtesy Pat Ryan/NEA.

Teachers for Better Schools (TBS) is the Columbus Education Association’s political-action arm, a separate entity from CEA developed to keep its eye on the political arena. It raises money for political candidates, levy and bond campaigns and other ballot issues affecting Columbus teachers and the school community.

TBS carefully studies the issues and informs all CEA members about the voting behavior and stated positions of our elected officials. Courtney Johnson is one of many CEA members that have also joined TBS.

She cites her mother, a longtime public servant (and now teacher) in Ironton, Ohio, as the inspiration for her entry into teaching. Johnson was hired by the district in 2001. Her first assignment was as a fourth and fifth grade special education teacher at Hubbard ES. She currently teaches ninth grade Humanities at Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School.

“TBS is important to me because any decisions that are made by elected officials that could potentially affect my teaching conditions will irrevocably affect my students’ learning conditions,” said Johnson, who recently testified on behalf of Ohio education professionals before the House Democratic Outreach and Steering Committee in Washington, D.C.

“I joined TBS because I know that CEA doesn’t spend my dues dollars on political candidates or issues,” she continued. “I know that my donations are needed now more than ever before so that my voice can be heard. In fact, because of what’s before us, I’m increasing the amount that I give through payroll deduction. I am asking my colleagues who are not members of TBS to join, and those that have joined to increase the amount they donate to TBS.”

Like it or not, it is elected leaders who decide our fate. Senate Bill 5 will weaken the voice of educators and weaken our participation in the political process. Now more than ever, it is important to raise funds, support TBS and get out the vote.

CEA does not use dues money to promote individual candidates or issues. Instead, we ask you join TBS. To join TBS, ask your faculty representative for a TBS membership form or download a form from the CEA website at http://bit.ly/fWiKPY. Sign up now. This is something that teachers can do now to fight for our future the future of public education and collective bargaining.