Laura Wade, Ohio coordinator for the event, will be working with people in the area and will organize nonpartisan meetings. She wants to get local families to insist that candidates take stands on issues that affect working families in Scioto County, such as increasing the minimum wage, trade agreements that have sent jobs out of the country and the need for health care.
“Why aren't (the issues) on the agenda of politicians in Columbus and in Washington?” Wade asked. “Nothing (can) happen without people standing up and saying ‘put our issues on the agenda.' We're not supporting any particular candidate.”
Portsmouth is one of about 50 communities in seven states participating in the campaign.
The Portsmouth Public Library was the site of the Ohio kickoff. The first speaker, Mayor Jim Kalb, addressed some of the issues, including increasing the minimum wage in Ohio. He gave a description of how much could be spent on just the necessities for a minimum wage paycheck on a $160 per week income.
“People on a minimum wage income are going to spend that money on food, clothing, rent, gasoline and other essentials,” Kalb said.
People are still not going to have money to save for a 401K, stocks, bonds or CDs, the mayor said.
“We talk about family values and we need to value the family,” said Ohio Rep. Todd Book, D-McDermott. “The fact is that we have to have a living wage for people. If you cannot support your family on your wages, then how can you have the family structure we need to support the community and to support our area.”
He said that Ohio lost 160,000 jobs and is first in foreclosures and second in personal bankruptcies.
“It's tough to live on the minimum wage, if not impossible,” Book said. “What we're doing in Ohio is that we're not valuing the family. We have a situation where it's very difficult for families to survive. The rich keep getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.”
He also spoke on the trade agreement saying that “We don't have a fair trade policy.”
Tim Burga, Ohio AFL-CIO director of government affairs, said that working families hold the key to Ohio's future.
“Ohioans have an opportunity to change the direction of this state by accepting the challenge to work together as working families and change the culture in Ohio,” Burga said.
The AFL-CIO is working to get signatures for an amendment to Ohio's constitution on the ballot this fall to change the minimum wage rate to $6.85, indexed annually for inflation. He said that “the minimum wage of $4.25 an hour as a state minimum wage is immoral and $5.15 an hour for the federal minimum wage is immoral.”
In Ohio, 92,000 people are working for the state minimum wage and a “couple hundred thousand” are working for the federal minimum wage, he said.
Although only about 20 people were present, several unions were represented including the AFL-CIO, the carpenters' union, AFSCME and the electricians' union.
The organization is sponsored by the Americans for Democratic Action Education Fund and co-sponsored by the Ohio AFL-CIO.
“We want to work to get these issues more attention in the community and especially to make sure that elected officials and people who are running for office speak to these issues,” said Jim Jontz, national coordinator for the Working Families Win project.
PHYLLIS NOAH can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org.