March 9, 2011

March 9, 2011 | Commentary on Political Thought

SEIU Robocall Urges Members to Harass Ohio State Senator

When Ohio state Sen. Frank LaRose, shared his cell phone number with local leadership from the Service Employees International Union, the Republican legislator thought swapping contact information might open a robust, substantive dialogue with union leaders. He knows better now.

The pro-labor LaRose last week voted in favor of Ohio Senate Bill 5, which would eliminate automatic pay raises for public workers, base future wage increases on merit and, most controversially, limit public workers’ collective bargaining ability. The bill squeaked through the Senate on a 17-to-16 vote -- and union leaders decided to target LaRose, who they determined cast the deciding vote.

As a result, last weekend, LaRose received more than 1,000 phone calls from angry union workers -- all thanks to SEIU 1199 robocalls to members that redirected at the touch of a button to LaRose’s cell phone number.

“My mistake as a rookie in this body is being too accessible,” LaRose said. “It’s a shame because I shared my cell phone number with leadership from SEIU. I told them, ‘Feel free to get in contact with me. I’d love to discuss public policy with you.’ I thought that was the right way to be, to have an open line of communication with folks, even folks that I share a different ideology with.”

The SEIU robocall even reached the voicemail of LaRose’s mother, a teacher. She, of course, ignored the suggestion to tell LaRose she disapproved of his vote, but the state senator heard the automated message on her machine. It told him he was a Wall Street insider out to hinder the middle class.

In reality, LaRose defines himself as a member of the middle class and boasts a hard-working resume. At age 14, he took his first job, working on a friend’s family farm. When he was 18, he enlisted in the Army and spent 10 years in uniform.

LaRose also advocated for labor-friendly revisions to the original version of Ohio SB 5. While the final version limits the ability of union workers to collectively bargain for health care, sick time and pension benefits, it preserves the ability of union workers to collectively bargain for wages, hours and certain work conditions -- partly because of LaRose’s behind-the-scenes efforts. He supported the bill only because the Senate altered provisions he initially opposed. With no reason left to object to it, LaRose supported the bill as a cost-cutting measure.

“The other side has portrayed it as some sort of a class warfare, kill-the-middle-class sort of a thing,” LaRose said. “This is about empowering the middle class. All of us that are taxpayers that are in the middle class that feel that the cost of government has gotten out of control.”

But union members who received the robocall responded to the union rhetoric anyway. Callers crowded LaRose’s quickly-maxed-out voicemail with “a steady diet of all the nastiest things you could ever imagine someone saying to you, including threats.”

Throughout the weekend, calls streamed in at a rate of about 20 to 30 per hour and even as late as yesterday, he received about one to two an hour. At one point, his phone stopped working.

“This moves beyond advocacy,” he said. “I think it’s perfectly reasonable for an organization like SEIU to advocate on behalf of their positions. That’s something we all believe in. This moves into the realm of harassment and intimidation. I’ve already cast my vote. They disagree with me. That’s fine.

"They can write all the things they want to and say all the things they want to, but, to me, it’s sort of sad that the hard-working people that contribute dutifully to that organization every month in the form of their union dues are having their money spent to jam up the cell phone of a public official. That just doesn’t seem like the way they’d want their dollars to be allocated.”

Tina Korbe is a staff writer in the Center for Media and Public Policy, an investigative journalism outlet at The Heritage Foundation.

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First appeared in The Examiner