Despite the number of victories in congressional and gubernatorial races across the country in 2018, many of the top labor-endorsed candidates in Ohio lost their elections. The losses were a disappointment to Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga, but he recognized the need to get to work to make the best of the situation. "It was a tough loss in the election, we had higher hopes," Burga said. "We didn’t have any time to waste lamenting the loss, we had to get to work preparing for a new incoming governor and a new legislature." And prepare they did.
Drawing on experience from the collective bargaining fights of 2011, the Ohio AFL-CIO recognized the threat of ongoing and renewed attacks on working people in the single party government and immediately got to work trying to supersede the threats.
As the political picture came into view after the November elections, it became clear that there would be a highly contested race to become Ohio speaker of the House in a chamber overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans. One of the candidates, Rep. Larry Householder, who has established relationships with Ohio union leaders, indicated he would abandon the regular attacks on collective bargaining, wages and labor's core issues that were constantly introduced and pushed in prior GOP Ohio legislatures.
The race for speaker was a very close one, with the candidates effectively dividing the GOP majority into two equal parts. Any significant defection of minority Democrats to support one or the other candidate emerged as a potential deciding factor in the outcome of the most important vote of the legislature. The Ohio AFL-CIO launched a union coalition and advocated for the ousting of the current speaker to be replaced by Householder, given his commitments to stand with trade unionists and working people. The intense and intricate effort brought forth the desired result. In the end, Householder won the race for speaker with 52 votes—26 from Republicans and 26 from Democrats.
This win was multifaceted. The advocacy effort caused an open dialogue between Householder and House Democrats as they discussed offering their support. House Democrats were able to secure significant procedural and structural advancements from now-Speaker Householder that create a unique opportunity for the minority party to participate in major policy decisions. With these agreements in place, many expect the chamber to also conduct itself in a more deliberative and transparent manner than has been the case in recent years.
"The voice of working people is a powerful thing and it knows no partisan lines," Burga said. "It is great when we have members of both parties recognize that, and come together to pave a way forward," he said.