The Real Crisis in Ohio: Senate Bill 5

By Troy Jackson 05-31-2011

This has been a difficult year in Ohio. For a state that lives and dies with the Ohio State Buckeye football team, the allegations surrounding the program have been difficult, leading to the resignation of coach Jim Tressel on Memorial Day. But the real crisis in Ohio has been Senate Bill 5, legislation rammed through the Ohio legislature and signed into law by Governor John Kasich several weeks ago.

Cloaked as an effort to save the state money during an economic crisis, the bill goes after public sector employees. In addition to restructuring benefits unilaterally, the legislation goes further by stripping teachers, police officers, fire fighters, corrections officers, and all public employees of their place at the table during contract negotiations.

Should Ohio's Senate Bill 5 be allowed to stand, police officers will have no right to ask for a partner on dangerous patrols, firefighters will have no say on how many respond to a raging fire, and teachers may be standing in front of 50 students in their packed-like-sardines classrooms. Should Senate Bill 5 not be overturned, those public sector employees who dare to speak up on the working conditions facing themselves and their colleagues could be demoted or fired with little recourse.

While working conditions and the economic system were different when the books of the Bible were written, there is a consistent theme in scripture that suggests that people without a voice are vulnerable to exploitation. Consistently God raised up people to raise their voices with workers. God raised up Moses (and Aaron) to provide a voice for the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. God raised up prophets to call kings to account for how they treated marginalized working people in Israel and Judah. And when workers are in jeopardy of losing their voices, many of us in Ohio believe we too ought to lift our voices with them to overturn Senate Bill 5.

To this end, I'm part of a coalition of clergy urging the people of Ohio to sign a petition to put Senate Bill 5 on the November ballot, where the voters will have a chance to enact a "Citizen's Veto" and overturn this legislation that threatens the rights of public service workers. On Friday, June 3, clergy will be staging press events in and around Ohio to communicate that we are in solidarity with public workers.

If you have a moment this Friday, whether you are in Ohio or not, please take a moment to pray for working people in our nation, that their voices would not be silenced, but would grow in the coming months and years. For far more important than Ohio State football is the state of Ohio's workers.

Troy Jackson is senior pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and earned his PhD in United States history from the University of Kentucky. He is author of Becoming King: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Making of a National Leader (Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century) and a participant in Sojourners' Windchangers grassroots organizing project in Ohio. Learn more about organizing around Ohio jobs.

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