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A Safety Net About to Unravel in Ohio

by Cynthia McCabe  |  November 02, 2011

Corrections officers Mike Tenney and Adam Ruth of OCSEA Chapter 5188
Corrections officers Mike Tenney and Adam Ruth of OCSEA Chapter 5188.

WESTERVILLE, OHIO – Corrections officer Adam Ruth picks up the phone and calls a fellow officer about to be unemployed when their prison privatizes in two months. He’s offering her a lifeline: an alternate job placement made possible, for the next few days at least, by state law and collective bargaining.

But if Issue 2 isn’t defeated on Election Day this Tuesday in Ohio, that alternate job placement provision will be eradicated. Without voters saying ‘No!’ to Issue 2, the onerous Senate Bill 5 takes effect. That’s the bill pushed by Gov. John Kasich (R) and his corporate backers that wipes out collective bargaining and other protections for public workers.

More than 500 employees at the North Central Correctional Institution will be unemployed as of Jan. 1 if not for the provision known as an “1814” that offers them placement at another facility in the state. It’s not just corrections officers about to be out of work when the prison sale is finalized. There are secretaries, mail clerks, store keepers, nurses and prison library assistants.

Ruth and his colleague Mike Tenney, both of Chapter 5188 of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA)/AFSCME Local 11, are racing to meet a Friday deadline set by the state. They need to reach the hundreds of fellow union brothers and sisters who are affected and get them into new jobs before Election Day. They are halfway through their calls with three days to go. In a room lined with papers listing code numbers that represent job vacancies in the state, they painstakingly work through each call and match a name to a number whenever possible.

Tenney sees the privatization of his prison and the push for the union-busting Senate Bill 5 as inextricably linked. He's been talking to anyone who will listen about the importance of voting no on Issue 2. Ruth recently won a neighbor's vote by talking with him over several days about the damaging impact of Senate Bill 5 becoming law.

On the phone, Ruth walks the corrections officer he’s talking with through the 1814 process, urging her to return quickly the paperwork she’ll get in the mail next week. It’s “a safety net,” he tells her, answering a few more of her questions then listening as she talks.

“I’m glad I made your day,” Ruth says and hangs up, allowing himself a quick smile. He stands and writes her name next to one of the open numbers on the papers lining the room. Then it’s back to the phone, on to the next laid off Ohio employee. Election Day and the vote against Issue 2 is only seven days away.

“Hey Susan, this is Adam Ruth calling from OCSEA…”

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