From Alabama to Ohio, the Struggle for Justice Continues

by Cynthia McCabe  |  November 07, 2011

OAPSE/AFSCME Local 4 member BJ Simmons-Talley testifies against Issue 2 and the devastating effect it would have on women.

WORTHINGTON, OHIO – Imagine a time when women gave birth and then went back to work driving school buses two days later. BJ Simmons-Talley doesn’t have to. She lived it, driving in 1970s Ohio when women risked losing their jobs every time they had a baby and needed to take maternity leave.

“Before collective bargaining, if you went on maternity leave, you came back to having lost your place,” said Simmons-Talley, a member of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE/AFSCME Local 4), who has three children of her own. “You’d be scared to go on leave, so you’d damage your body because you wanted to get back. You’d stay out two or three days and then you went back to work.”

What does Simmons-Talley think about tomorrow’s vote on Ohio’s anti-worker Issue 2 that could return Ohio women to that place, if it’s not rejected?

“We ain’t going back there,” says a fiercely determined Simmons-Talley.

To make sure we don’t, Simmons-Talley has spent the past nine months fighting Issue 2, testifying at the statehouse, knocking on doors, feeding other volunteers at campaign sites and collecting signatures to get the law on tomorrow’s ballot for a citizens’ veto. It’s personal to Simmons-Talley, who knows that the 29,000 women in her union will be unfairly hurt if the law is allowed to take away workers’ rights to have a say in their employment terms. Simmons-Talley knows that when conservative lawmakers and management call all the shots, workers can suffer.

“The majority of my people are single parents,” says Simmons-Talley of her female colleagues at Columbus Public Schools. “All we want is decent wages, good health insurance and to be able to send our kids to college.”

What many of them don’t realize though, especially the younger ones, is how hard-won their collective bargaining rights are, she says. And even harder for them to imagine is a time without unions.

“They don’t realize the women before us, the men before us, fought and some even lost their lives to get us to have a union and to have a voice at that table,” Simmons-Talley says. “That’s one of the major things I’m really fighting for. I have granddaughters and grandsons and I don’t want them to go through what I went through.”

And Simmons-Talley has been through quite a lot. Not just an activist for her gender, the Alabama native also marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in her home state in the 1960s. Testifying at the Ohio state house this winter on behalf of public workers’ rights brought back memories of the civil rights struggle. With one noted exception.

“We’re not getting beat down by the police,” says Simmons-Talley. “This time, the police are with us.”BJ Simmons-Talley

Next: ‘Guerilla Drive-In’ Exposes Billionaire Koch Brothers’ Role in Destroying Middle Class, Crushing Workers
Previous: State Pushing Cuts on Backs of ‘Grateful’ Workers

Get news & updates from AFSCME