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Together we won it all!

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Columbus Lodge #9 President Jim Gilbert, seen above on the right, joined other Ohio unions, most of whom the police had never worked with before, to overturn the law known as SB5. It was an unusual tactic that required intense collaboration and it worked. “When it came down to the wire,” Jim said, “we all understood it was important we put our differences aside and work on this one together.”

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The tactic worked. When the votes were tallied in Ohio on election day in November 2011, the results were astonishing. Voters turned out in record numbers and voted 61 to 39 percent to strike down a new law known as “Ohio Senate Bill (SB5)” which stripped all bargaining rights from the state’s 350,000 public-sector workers.

Sgt. Jim Gilbert, a 15-year veteran with the Columbus Police Department who was serving as president of the Capital City F.O.P. Lodge #9, was ecstatic over the victory. “This vote sent a message to Ohio and the country,” Gilbert said. “We made it clear we will not stand by and let politicians take away our rights.”

As the fifth largest F.O.P. Lodge in the nation with 4200 members from 28 different agencies in Franklin County, Gilbert’s group had a pivotal role in the dramatic grass roots effort that led to the repeal of SB 5. Once the newly elected Republican governor, John Kasich, signed SB5 into law shortly after his election, the alarm bells went off and people sprang into action.

Jim Gilbert, the president of the Columbus FOP in 2011, led the fight against SB5. They won the battle and Ohio’s 350,000 public sector employees got their collective bargaining rights back.

Jim Gilbert, the president of the Columbus FOP in 2011, led the fight against SB5. They won the battle and Ohio’s 350,000 public sector employees got their collective bargaining rights back.

“We called a membership meeting,” Gilbert recalled. “Usually we have a tough time getting our members to turn out, but this time it was different. Over 2400 people packed our local Veterans Memorial Hall. For the first time the F.O.P. reached out to firefighters and other non-F.O.P. police unions and encouraged them to attend.

The Lodge #9 president pointed out that everyone understood that getting the law repealed was a mutual fight. “They understood it was important we put our differences aside and work on this together,” he said.

And work together they did. Their fledgling collaboration soon had a name – Protect Ohio Protectors, or POP for short. E-mail lists were shared and organized into one massive list. Everyone voted for a $20 a month dues increase which enabled Capital City Lodge 9 to contribute $400,000 towards the campaign which eventually cost the “We are Ohio” organization $28 million.

The battle began with a statewide effort to collect enough signatures to get the repeal measure on the ballot. It was a massive door-to-door effort undertaken by unpaid volunteers that spanned the state.

“The cops really stepped up,” Gilbert recalled. “We had members who had never been involved in anything like this spend hundreds of hours banging on doors and getting signatures. We had one guy who spent every one of his days off collecting signatures at a local shopping center.”

It was an immense outpouring of energy and work. When the signatures were counted, 300,000 Ohioans had signed a petition to get the repeal measure on the ballot.

Then came the campaign.

“We did some polling,” Gilbert explained. “We learned we should frame our argument that SB5 was going to compromise the public’s safety as opposed to our own safety. So instead of focusing on our own needs and officer safety, we talked about the safety of the community. We let them know it would be harder to recruit qualified candidates and that there would be serious cuts like fewer resources available for the public schools.”

Lodge 9 began a training program so their members could go out into the community and speak knowledgeably about the bill. Participating in over 60 community meetings over three short three months, they explained that SB5 was going to hurt veterans because it eliminated the service credit which would hurt the soldiers who were returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They emphasized that SB5 had effectively stripped 350,000 people of their rights but the politicians had exempted themselves from the provisions of the law.

“That had a huge impact on people,” Gilbert said.

The County’s major daily newspaper – the Columbus Dispatch – was pro SB5 and ran several editorials arguing that the police and their “union bosses” needed to understand that Ohio was going to start tightening its belt.

The response was quick and effective. A boycott was organized and people were encouraged to cancel their subscriptions and stop buying the Dispatch on the newsstands. Ads were purchased in suburban newspapers. The message resonated.

F.O.P. Lodge 9 members systematically called companies who were advertising in the newspaper and explained that they would no longer be using their services or buying their products because enactment of SB5 meant lower pay and fewer benefits and they wouldn’t have the money.

The cops even had a mobile billboard of sorts after a local car dealership gave the F.O.P. a brand new Chevy Caprice.

“We marked it up with slogans to support our cause – things like “Support Your Cops,” “Support Your Safety Forces,” Gilbert noted. “Guys would drive it through the downtown when they were off duty or take it to the Ohio State football game where 100,000 fans were attending. It was an ingenious idea.”

Gilbert says getting the word out without spending a lot of money is now possible because of social media. “I personally have 2000 friends on Facebook,” he said.

“Every time I saw anything related to the people who were supporting taking away our bargaining rights and pensions, I would put it up on my Facebook page. It’s a great way to get the word out there without spending money.”

The good news is that Jim Gilbert and his 350,000 colleagues in Ohio who work in the public sector are not resting on their laurels. They are busy mobilizing for the elections next November.

“Our members voted to continue paying more dues,” Gilbert said. “Our plan is to build a war chest and our goal is one million dollars. We’re looking towards next November and we are going to remember who stood with us and who did not. Politicians have always gotten a pass from police officers; they always had their hand on our shoulder. But after SB5 we know we can’t trust them.”

Jim says that the night the votes came in and people across the state realized they won 61 to 39, the mood was euphoric.

“We worked hard, we raised the money and we all worked together. I am so proud that we were able to send a huge message to this country – public workers deserve their rights and we will fight for to keep our rights,” Gilbert concluded.

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