Why the Ohio Education Association Needs “We Are Ohio”

A banner placed by OEA staff encouraged the union executive director to kill himself

The Ohio Education Association (OEA) incurred a staff union strike and a seven-figure legal settlement with union retirees in 2010, and against this backdrop OEA chose to give more than $6.5 million to We Are Ohio instead of openly steering the 2011 campaign against public union reform.

According to a national survey shared in the June 5 Wall Street Journal, “[t]he number of teachers holding negative views of unions nearly doubled to 32% from 17% last year,” which validates OEA’s decision to use We Are Ohio.

OEA narrowly averted a strike from its employees represented by the Professional Staff Union (PSU) in 2009, and PSU members picketed in front of OEA headquarters for more than a week during the summer of 2010. Since OEA — the largest government union in the state — plays hardball against school districts that don’t meet the demands of union negotiators, the failure of OEA leaders to compromise with their own employees was big news.

The Buckeye Institute, Ohio’s leading free-market think tank, posted a video of the strike, as did NBC 4 in Columbus. NBC 4 also reported the arrest of at least one picketer outside the OEA building, and The Columbus Dispatch informed readers the average salary of the OEA “labor relations consultants” on strike exceeded $100,000.

Writing on the official PSU website, OEA staff described OEA as “hell-bent on forcing its Professional Staff Union (PSU) to strike” and said, “[i]t is extremely ironic that the state’’s largest advocate of school employees in collective bargaining has chosen not to bargain fairly with its own employees.”

Another OEA employee wrote, “the saddest part of all is that OEA’’s attitude is about power —– not about progress, fairness, the financial future of the organization, or any other factor upon which OEA’’s conduct should be based.”

In May of 2010, OEA staff held a vote and expressed “No Confidence” in OEA Executive Director Larry Wicks , complaining that Wicks had left hundreds of staff grievances unresolved and had “chosen to waste OEA dues dollars and other resources to fight OEA’’s own employees instead of OEA’’s REAL adversaries.”

Referring to her employees in an email published on the PSU site, OEA President Patricia Frost-Brooks wrote, “Communications by PSU lack credibility because they are misleading and sometimes inaccurate.”

In a separate email Frost-Brooks wrote, “PSU is excessively aggressive in its rhetoric, almost outlandish in its rendering of the OEA positions, and very close to the vest about what their members make relative to what contract raises they’’ve negotiated for US in the past two years.”

The summer 2010 strike followed a spring 2010 class-action settlement where OEA agreed to pay $3.75 million to union retirees whose health benefits OEA had revoked several years earlier.

OEA’s disdain for employees and members who disagree was occasionally evident in the 2011 We Are Ohio campaign.

In response to a pro-reform TV spot featuring Kyle Farmer — a teacher and an official in his local Republican Party — We Are Ohio posted a spiteful YouTube video quoting “real” teachers reciting union talking points. The video also attacked Farmer as a “very biased teacher” for his prior support of Governor Kasich, despite We Are Ohio’s funding from far-left unions and the Ohio Democratic Party.

Following the success of the unions’ referendum on public union reform, We Are Ohio is now working with OEA and numerous other union groups in the Voters First redistricting initiative. Future campaign finance reports to the Secretary of State will reveal to what extent OEA continues using We Are Ohio as a campaign front, and Media Trackers Ohio will review both groups’ finances as data become available.

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