Ohio Labor Movement Defeats Anti-Union Bill and Its Wealthy Supporters

Ohio's labor movement is celebrating today after voters dealt a hefty blow to Republican Gov. John Kasich on Tuesday by overwhelmingly voting to repeal an anti-collective bargaining law he championed during the past year.

Ohioans voted to repeal Senate Bill 5 (SB 5) by a margin of 61 to 38 percent. SB 5 would have limited collective bargaining rights for more than 350,000 public workers in Ohio and increased health care and pension costs for some workers.

SB 5 passed the Ohio legislature by a single vote in March, and soon after, 10,000 pro-worker volunteers began working to put the bill up for a voter referendum, as allowed by Ohio law. Volunteers collected an unprecedented 1.3 million signatures by June. A massive volunteer effort would come to characterize the pro-union campaign that has reinvigorated the grassroots labor movement in a key swing state.

The referendum on SB 5 was largely seen as a referendum on Governor Kasich, a former Lehman Brothers employee and Fox News personality who was elected in the 2010 GOP landslide. Kasich said SB 5 would help municipalities save money during tough economic times, but with protests raging in Madison, Wisconsin, and similar bills being introduced in other swing states, SB 5 reflected a broader Republican assault on public workers and unions in battleground states.

Also See: SPECIAL REPORT: Out-of-State Corporate Money Floods Ohio Battle Over Anti-Collective Bargaining Bill

Campaign expenditures reached roughly $40 million, rivaling the amount spent on the 2010 gubernatorial election. The campaign pit money from unions and their middle-class supporters against secret funds donated by businesses, wealthy Ohioans and out-of-state interests.

We Are Ohio, labor's main campaign vehicle, reported all of their finances and raised $30 million, mostly from Ohio unions and public teachers groups. Building a Better Ohio, the GOP-linked group defending the law, set up a nonprofit corporation to raise funds and avoided revealing their finances to the public, but a recent Truthout investigation shed light on the Republican fund raising scheme.

Building a Better Ohio and Governor Kasich received support from Make Ohio Great, a front group for the Republican Governors Association (RGA), which spent $11 million supporting Kasich in the 2010 election. Make Ohio Great did not reveal the amount of money it gave to Building a Better Ohio or spent on ads defending SB 5, but a look at its 2010 records revealed that the RGA middle-manned money from private health care companies and corporations like Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart, allowing out-of-state interests to silently support Kasich's campaign.

Make Ohio Great spent more than $1 million on television ads supporting Kasich and funneled untold amounts of out-of-state cash into Building a Better Ohio's coffers. Building a Better Ohio did reveal the names of its contributors in late October, but not donation amounts. The pro-SB 5 campaign was supported by wealthy Ohioans, big businesses, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the RGA via Make Ohio Great.

In the end, the pro-SB 5 campaign failed to gain the same momentum as the repeal effort, which received massive support from thousands of tireless volunteers and middle-class donors, who refused to let Ohio's police, firefighters and teachers lose their collective voice.