Public employees gathered in downtown Kent this afternoon to try and keep the fight against Ohio Senate Bill 5 in the spotlight.
Members of the Kent police and fire departments met with faculty from Kent State University and two members of Kent City Council at the Backerei to talk about SB5 and how its limits on collective bargaining for public unions may directly affect businesses patronized by public workers.
The small gathering Monday was part of a recently developed campaign by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees unions, dubbed "Proud Ohio Workers," that enlists local, small businesses in a campaign to support public employees. The Proud Ohio Workers website features photos of businesses that have joined the campaign and lists their location on a map of Ohio.
Joe Lawrence, a representative of AFSCME, said he signed up several Kent businesses last week, including the Kent Natural Foods Co-op, Main Street Continental Grill, Backerei, Stone Tavern and Guacamole's in Franklin Township.
"The thrust of it is, main street merchants, small merchants, appreciate the patronage of public employees and they realize that given this current atmosphere the very jobs of many public employees are in danger," Lawrence said. "Their livelihood … is going to suffer overall."
The Proud Ohio Workers message is one not lost on Backerei owner Andrea Berry, whose mother is a retired Summit County social worker.
"I am a small business, and I do understand the importance of local business and supporting your local economy as well as the importance of public and private service workers," Berry said. "I definitely welcome them in my establishment. And I do believe they are very necessary for maintaining order and keeping everything secure and safe throughout the community."
According to its website, Proud Ohio Workers "was created to allow merchants across the state to show that they recognize public employee support for their shops." Members identify themselves by placing a sticker with the group's logo on their window.
Jeff Coffee, a member of the Kent Firefighters Association, said Monday's meeting was meant to show the group's effect in Portage County.
"We’re just trying to keep our coalition going and build some steam," he said.
AFSCME and other Ohio unions are collecting signatures for a referendum to put SB5 on an upcoming ballot for voters to have the final say.
State Rep. Kathleen Clyde said recently that provisions in SB5 are on hold until it goes to the ballot. Some of its provisions are working their way into the state budget bill, but the budget bill has not been approved yet in the legislature.
"I do think that Senate Bill 5 will be on the ballot," Clyde said.