How to Fight Against Ohio Issue 2 (SB5)

September 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm

The campaign to pass Issue 2 is in full swing in Ohio so I thought I’d review the pro-Issue 2 marketing, what they’re trying to accomplish, and how best to fight against it.

Remember, Issue 2 is the issue which limits collective bargaining for state employees such as police, firefighters, and teachers for wages, hours, and conditions of employment.

The Pro Issue 2 Strategy: Building a Better Ohio and others

Building a Better Ohio, the pro-Issue 2 group, wants to turn the battle into a Unions vs. Taxpayers fight.

The simple demographics of this idea are that unions represent a small percentage of the voting public and everyone is a taxpayer. The demographics in the voting public break out to about 15% unions vs. 100% taxpayers.

This is how conservatives are trying to target segment the market and appeal to the most people.

Their arguments will take the form of trying to scare people about the impact of unions and will try to tell you that they’re doing all of this for the taxpayer.

They will say things like “Ohio Senate Bill 5 will prevent not only more layoffs of government employees but enhance opportunities in the private sector.”

They will say they are trying to control “out of control spending”. Or as Rebecca Heimlich, Director of the Conservative group Ohio Chapter of Americans for Prosperity said, “If SB 5 fails, what we’re going to see is tax hikes across the state and mass layoffs of employees. That kills jobs.”

So you’re going to see fear and you’re going to see the argument that it’s either unions or jobs.

Here’s a couple examples from the comments in the Cincinnati Enquirer:

“Ohioans have been abused enough by these gangster unions. It’s time we put an end to their corruption and thuggery.” – GlovesOff

“Its a referendum on A. Business as usual (stupidity) or B. Reigning in out of control union control of the government (common sense).” – thug123

“If you are a freebie multigenerational welfare, school choice voucher, free cell phone, free health care, free dental care and section 8 recipient vote to repeal SB5 so you can maintain your cradle to grave “benefits” and services without, you know, actually having to work for them.” – AdolfGalland

Note the one common theme: Unions vs. Taxpayers. This is the strategy. Why? Again, it’s simple demographics. Unions represent only about 15% of Ohio’s workforce. If they can turn the fight into unions vs. taxpayers, they win.

A Counter Strategy for Arguing Against Issue2

What’s the best way to fight against this strategy?

First, avoid falling into the Unions vs. Taxpayers trap. Many of the comments I’ve seen online take the bait and try to make a pro-union argument.

You’ll see arguments like “Kasich is trying to break the unions” or “This is a union-busting bill!” Of course it’s a union-busting bill. But you don’t want the argument to be unions vs. taxpayers. The numbers are simply not in our favor. This approach is simply not the most helpful.

But it’s true, you say. Yes, but it’s not the most effective because it doesn’t appeal to the most people.

Here’s another couple examples of well-meaning and intentioned arguments that don’t appeal to enough people:

“But I know that when unions do well, the workers of this country do better. Collective bargaining ANYWHERE helps the middle class. The more it’s limited, the less money you make, the less benefits you get. It’s that simple.” – no-hell-below-us

“I’ve never been a union member nor patched [sic] a time clock, but most of the benefits such as health insurance, Medicate, Social Security, workplace safety and more are here because unions and others stood up for all of us who work.” – NoBozos

These arguments hint at how unions have benefited all of society but they still fall within the Union vs. Taxpayer frame.

It’s like agreeing with conservatives that reducing the deficit creates jobs and is our number one priority. The trap is that once you accept the basic premise, then the debate revolves solely around how much to reduce.

You don’t want to fall for the Unions vs. Taxpayers trap.  It’s a false divide.

A more effective way to argue would be to frame the debate in a way that targets the audience most effectively.

Remember, when SB5 was introduced? It was wildly unpopular with the public, enjoying almost 70% disapproval.


  1. It was viewed for what it was, a diversion from Kasich’s pledge to create jobs (Really? You’re going after teachers. Do you know what most teachers make?)
  2. It sure looks like taking from the poor and giving to the rich. On the one hand Kasich wants to cut funds to middle-class employees. On the other, he’s offering “incentives” to companies like Wendy’s, Diebold, and Bob Evans to build new corporate headquarters here.
  3. Public employees have been very willing to consider giving up something on their end. This would seem to indicate that the system works. Why take away their right to bargain too?

Wildly unpopular.

Yet Kasich and friends have been gaining ground since turning this into a Taxpayer vs. Union frame.

The framing I would suggest using is the Corporation vs. People frame. Wall Street vs. Main Street. This framing targets where this legislation has been coming from, namely groups like ALEC.

Example 1:

If you believe that the troops on the ground, the people who are the experts in their field, should have a voice and a seat at the table, then vote “No” on Issue 2.  

Example 2:

If you believe that shared sacrifice means everyone including those at the top, vote “No” on Issue 2. 

Example 3:

Issue 2 also erodes rights. Imagine the uproar if government were limiting the ability to organize of churches or corporations. Why then should government be trying to limit the ability of people to collective bargain?

For those Tea Party constitutionalists, ask them about Article III of the Bill of Rights:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

True, the Constitution sets limits on the Federal government. But why should a state government be trying to limit these rights?

Isn’t the ability to collectively bargain just as much a part of a free market as anything else?

You’ll be hearing a great deal from Building a Better Ohio, the group fighting to protect Issue 2, over the next couple of months. They are well funded and their marketing strategy is the standard divide and conquer: if you can get the people fighting against each other, then you can pass some really bad legislation.

So don’t get pulled into the wrong fights. Remember to respect the rights and opinions of others, even if you disagree. And post about this wherever you can: Facebook, local newspaper comments, letters to the editor, etc. because the issue may not get fair coverage in the corporate media.

For other efforts at understanding Issue 2 and framing the debate see the following additional resources: