The post-election party celebrating the public's execution of Senate Bill No. 5 was jubilant and electrifying. Throughout the night at the Holy Grail Tavern downtown, cheers could be heard celebrating the waves of election reports as they came in.
The “No on Issue 2” crowd made its own waves as well, bringing the number of Republicans on Cincinnati City Council from four down to one, and helping to elect the city's first openly gay council member
Unofficial tallies showed that 63 percent of voters statewide and 52 percent of Hamilton County voters rejected the collective bargaining bill touted and pushed by Gov. John Kasich. It was a big win for labor unions.
“This is unbelievable,” said Julie Sellers, Cincinnati Federation of Teachers president. “I didn't know everyone in the state of Ohio would support us the way they did. Isn't this wonderful? This is the most exciting night of my life. This is a win for the middle class of America.”
Sellers believes the road ahead will be difficult considering the fiscal challenges for Ohio schools but says layoffs are not, as the pro-SB5 side claimed, the inevitable conclusion of the law's rejection.
State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township) said although the margin of the victory surprised him, he was sure it going to go down.
“I'm certainly happy about that, we should all be happy that the public has had its say,” Seitz said.
Seitz, a conservative Republican who voted against SB5 as a state senator and as a private citizen in this election, said there are lessons for the Ohio Legislature in this public mandate. Voters want a balanced bill, not one that overreaches as SB5 did. It was too much, too fast, he added.
“It was a 302-page bill with hundreds of subjects,” Seitz said.
Seitz believes the public wants a bill that addresses a narrow and finite number of subjects – health-care and transparency in contract negotiations are at the top of his list.
“And merit pay, as long as we collectively bargain about what merit means,” he added.
That SB5 first saw the light of day in February and was passed in March didn't help its odds: “That's not consensus and it's not collaboration.”
“I'm not a union guy, I'm a conservative Republican. But before I do something that impacts a lot of people, I'm going to give them a meaningful opportunity to be heard,” Seitz said.
The Republicans on Cincinnati City Council who lost their seats were casualties of SB5, he said. Seitz told local Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou to avoid overt public support of SB5 on leaflets that also supported Republican candidates, but Triantafilou said he'd “been told to do it,” according to Seitz.
“Their strategy was to divide the public-sector middle class from the private-sector middle class,” Seitz said. “That divide and conquer strategy didn't work very well.”
The Rev. Andre O'Neal of the Rockdale Baptist Church in Avondale says he was brought into politics for the first time because of SB5. He said he opposes it because of his faith.
“With a majority African-American church,” he explained, “state jobs are the number one employer for African-American males and the number two employer for African-American women. We in the faith community see this as an attack on our people in our church body.”
Cincinnati AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Doug Sizemore says the outpouring of support across the state was “phenomenal.” Sizemore was one of several local labor union leaders present who were taking photographs with supporters and shaking hands as the victory was celebrated.
Cincinnati Firefighter Travis Coleman gleefully shook Sizemore's hand while CityBeat interviewed him. Coleman is “extremely happy” with the election's outcome.
“We hit the street,” he says. “Our cause was just. It was union busting, plain and simple. Nothing can overcome us after this.”
And West Clermont Schools teacher Stacy Recker also was joyous.
“I was really nervous all day,” Recker said. “If it didn't fail, it was going to be a very scary world for all of us."