The Rally to Save Ohio's Middle Class was in full swing on the steps and lawn of the State Capitol in Columbus when I arrived to join Sierra Club's contingent. It was a bright sunny day, and the boisterous and energized crowd — Reuters estimated 5,000 people — was in full throat against the legislative assault on public sector workers.
A wonderfully rich cross section of Ohioans — teachers, firefighters, corrections officers, steelworkers, utility workers, just to name a few, were gathered in solidarity. Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU, preceded me at the podium and gave a shout out to the Sierra Club for our support of workers. She told me before I went on how compelling the Club's message of support across the country has been.
[There I am at the rally — thanks to MacKenzie Bailey for the photo.]
The crowd's reception was great and folks in the crowd afterwards nodded approval as Teresa McHugh led us through carrying a "Sierra Club Stands with Workers" poster. It's inspiring to know our Ohio Chapter leadership has joined the battle for public sector bargaining rights in earnest, while at the same time mounting a counteroffensive on the assault on state parks and the defunding of the environmental protection and natural resources agencies. A new bill to drill in Ohio state parks was just introduced today. Go get 'em, Ohio Chapter! You rock!
Below is the message I delivered to the crowd on behalf of Sierra Club.
(Someone suggested I include this joke that's been making the rounds on Facebook, but I didn't get the email until after the speech. So I'm going to include it here:
A public union employee, a tea party activist, and a CEO are sitting at a table with a plate of a dozen cookies in the middle of it. The CEO takes 11 cookies, turns to the tea partier and says, 'Watch out for that union guy. He wants a piece of your cookie.)
I am proud to stand with you today, on behalf of the Sierra Club, the nation's oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization, and a proud, founding member of the BlueGreen Alliance of labor and environmentalists.
We are 14 million strong and we are mad!
I am here to show our support for Ohio's workers. In the last several days, thousands of our members have turned out and joined rallies like this one — in Wisconsin, Indiana, Washington, Georgia, Maryland, our nation's capital — showing our solidarity with our brothers and sisters everywhere confronting the orchestrated assault on working families.
Sierra Club has a proud history of working with labor to establish workplace safeguards and demanding workplace safety and protection from toxics exposure. Speaking in the wake of a battle with Shell Oil in 1973 over refinery workers' exposure to toxic chemicals, then Sierra Club Executive Director Mike McCloskey said: "The environmental movement can only succeed if it can find ways to advance its cause that are consistent with the other legitimate goals of our people, and job security is paramount among these. Environmental protection cannot come at the cost of social justice, and conversely, progress toward social justice will become ephemeral if it is earned at the price of a healthful environment."
Nothing has changed about that basic premise. What has changed is the redistribution of power and wealth in this country into the hands and pockets of corporate polluters. And they are driving a very destructive agenda — destructive to working families, destructive to good jobs, destructive to basic protections from pollution and destructive of our future.
The BlueGreen Alliance is in the forefront of the resistance to corporate polluters working to reverse worker protections and environmental safeguards. BlueGreen Alliance leaders came together a few days ago to decry the legislative assaults on the freedom to form unions and bargain for better lives.
They recognized the importance of negotiating safer, healthier workplaces and connected this fight with attacks on the EPA’s authority to regulate pollution under the Clean Air Act.
As Sierra Club's Executive Director Mike Brune said, "These attacks on workers, the attacks on the EPA’s ability to protect our land, water, air and health — they are all coming from the same place: corporations and their political allies. We can’t stand down now. We have to fight together as union members and environmentalists to protect our rights, to protect our families and to protect our environment. These rights are fundamental to our democracy."
(See United We Stand for Solutions for more.)
Here in Ohio the corporate polluters' destructive agenda includes taking away the basic rights of public sector workers, slashing the funding for the state Environmental Protection Agency and drilling in Ohio's state parks. We demand that state government protect the health and well being of working people and our communities and require the corporate sector to pay their share.
When Ohio ran out of funds to support safety and permit oversight of coal mining last year, coal companies refused to pay their fair share in fees to do business. Instead, they pressed the state to take the costs of doing business out of the worker’s compensation fund for miners who suffer black lung disease. What kind of corporate responsibility is that?
We can't let big corporate polluters use their influence and power to trample the rights of working people, pollute without penalty and degrade our parks and public lands. We need to join together to build a movement for a stronger, more equitable, healthy and clean future.
United, we can stop the corporate polluters from ramming through their destructive agenda.
United, we can save the middle class.
United, we can take back our future.
It is not about fighting over the scraps that corporate polluters would leave us. It's about working together to build a larger pie by moving America beyond reliance on dirty and dangerous energy, and the stranglehold of the corporate polluters, creating millions of clean energy jobs in our communities.
It's about moving America towards a prosperous future, with the good jobs our communities need, and an economy that works for all.
Sierra Club stands proudly with Ohio's Municipal Parks employees, with state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Agency employees, with all of Ohio's workers.
We are here with you, we have been with you, and we will be with you every step of the way.
[Thanks to the Transport Workers Union for this photo.]
-- Robin Mann