LORAIN — Because Chuck Schultz carried a 12-pound wrench to work, his daughter was able to carry a laptop to her job.
Connie Schultz, whose column runs in The Chronicle-Telegram, told the story of her father, a Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. union factory worker, and her mother, Janey, a nonunion nurse and hospice worker, at Sunday’s 18th annual Lorain County Labor Day Festival. Schultz, the wife of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, told her late parents’ stories to illustrate the value of worker rights and unions, which she said are under attack by Republicans.
Schultz said her father’s union health care plan helped her survive a serious case of asthma as a teenager, and her parents’ salaries, along with federal taxpayer loans, allowed her to be the first in her family to graduate from college.
“My dad thought he was a nobody. My mother thought she was a nobody, but they were going to raise four somebodies,” Schultz told about 200 festival-goers at Black River Landing. “My parents wore their bodies out so that their children would never have to.”
Schultz and other speakers were warmly greeted by the crowd, which included many union workers wearing T-shirts with the names of their union locals. In addition to the speeches, the event included a car show, music and information booths of local unions. Among those in the audience was Marlene Tucker, an Avon resident and union nurse for Kaiser Permanente in Cleveland.
Tucker said she formerly worked at Mercy Regional Medical Center in Lorain, where she helped form the union there after a yearlong strike that ended in 2000. Tucker said the contract battle that Service Employees International Union District 1199 is engaged in at the hospital is an example of the uphill battle workers face even if they form a union.
In the 1950s, some 35 percent of workers were unionized, but last year it was just 11.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Sen. Brown attributed the decline to outsourced manufacturing jobs, foreign trade laws that reward U.S. corporations for shipping jobs overseas and an unlevel playing field for unions.
Brown voted against the trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea supported by President Obama and said Obama needs to more aggressively enforce trade laws and American worker rights through the National Labor Relations Board. Nonetheless, Brown praised Obama’s overall labor record citing the $80 billion auto bailout, which the Center for Automotive Research in 2010 estimated saved 1.14 million jobs. Brown said some 800,000 jobs in Ohio were saved due to the bailout, which the Treasury Department estimated cost U.S. taxpayers $25.1 billion.
Brown said Republicans want to increase tax cuts for the rich, further deregulate Wall Street, decrease environmental and worker safety standards and privatize Medicare and Social Security.
“That’s why this election, this year, is so important,” he said. “To keep the growth and accelerate this growth.”
Brown, who took office in 2007, said some $15 million for attack ads is being spent by special interest groups on behalf of his opponent, Republican State Treasurer Josh Mandel. Brown said it was the most spent in any Senate race. He said it was due to his calls for breaking up the big banks, ending tax breaks for Big Oil and his support for foreign trade reform.
“If it’s a choice between having labor activists and the people of Lorain County or having Exxon and Chinese money and Wall Street, I’ll take the labor activists and the people of Lorain County any day,” Brown said to applause.
Like Brown, fellow speaker Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president, has differed with Obama over trade agreements, but Trumka said Obama has been an ally of workers, unlike Gov. John Kasich and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Kasich championed Senate Bill 5, the law overturned by voters in November that would’ve stripped Ohio public union members of most of their collective bargaining rights. Romney in October said he was “110 percent” behind Kasich and the bill.
Trumka said Romney and Republicans would dismantle worker rights if elected.
“We need you terribly this time because, never, never have we seen a sharper divide between two competing visions for America’s future,” Trumka said. “We’re moving America forward, and we won’t back down, and we won’t back up, and we’re never going back to the 1930s, which is where they want to take us to.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or email@example.com.