Gov. John Kasich (R) has suffered mightily for his plan to restrict the collective bargaining rights of unionized state workers in Ohio. Though the Republican-controlled state legislature passed the law, known as Senate Bill 5, and Kasich has signed it, the optics of passage have been terrible and voters have turned on their new governor less than six months after he defeated a Democratic incumbent.
Now, as the fight over SB5 shifts to a massive ballot repeal initiative organized by labor, Democrats and progressives in Ohio, Kasich’s got a new problem on his hands: the support of the state Chamber of Commerce, which broke with tradition and made Kasich the first gubernatorial candidate to ever get its endorsement, is fracturing. The break is slight at the moment, but a growing number businesses who support the union cause and/or serve union members are breaking with the Chamber — and the man they helped propel into office.
Kasich needs a strong Chamber to help fight off the repeal initiative, which is expected to put SB5 in the hands of the voters this November. Unions have said they might spend as much as $20 million to strike down the law, and with no organized operation to defend the bill, opponents in Ohio expect the Chamber to pick up the cost.
The cracks in the Chamber after the passage of SB5 are not likely to put a dent in any operation to defend the law with voters that business groups and conservatives in Ohio might mount. But they do show that the business-oriented Kasich — who heavily touted the endorsement on the campaign trail last fall — may be losing some of his allies thanks to his push to strip state workers of most of their collective bargaining power. (Kasich and supporters of SB5 say the changes are necessary to help bring the state’s budget back into balance.)
The problems appeared shortly after the bill was passed by the legislature. In Youngstown, the CEO of a technology firm publicly broke with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce after it refused to rescind its endorsement of SB5.
In a letter sent to the chamber by Turning Technologies’ Michael Broderick, the CEO complained that the Chamber’s stance on SB5 is a turn away from fighting for business and toward partisan politics that may in the end alienate customers:
“As I have stated to both of you privately prior to this decision, I believe the chamber recently took ill-advised steps which resulted in the perception that the chamber is a partisan Republican organization,” Broderick wrote on March 31. “In our strongly Democratic community, this perception clearly undermines the Chamber’s all important broad support across the community.”
A handful of other companies across Ohio soon followed Broderick’s lead and resigned from the regional Chamber. The Chamber has also run into trouble with the county governments it serves as official economic development agency.
Labor has seized on the discontent among some businesses with the Chamber and the worry among others that supporting SB5 might cost them valuable union-worker business. As it gears up to take on the law in November, AFSCME has begun signing up businesses in its Proud Ohio Workers program, which calls on firms to put a sticker in their window and sign a letter signaling that they’re “worker-friendly.”
So far, more than 400 businesses across Ohio have signed up. Joining the program does not require a firm to publicly take sides on SB5, but a spokesperson said that the Proud Ohio Workers sticker in the window of a firm signifies that they understand labor’s concerns with the law.
“Small businesses understand SB5 will lead to the elimination of lots of jobs in local communities,” Dennis Willard told TPM. “When that happens, because public sector jobs like all jobs drive the economy, these merchants are really concerned they’re going to lose business.”
For now, Williams said there’s no organized effort to raise money from the firms to support the SB5 repeal operations. But he said that the fact that so many companies are publicly standing in what amounts to opposition to the state Chamber suggests that SB5 supporters in the business community may have a problem.
“The Chamber upset a lot of people when they broke with tradition and endorsed Gov. Kasich,” he said. “Their members are business people who want to make money and stay out of politics.”