By Nancy Molnar
Special to the Beacon Journal
CANTON: Opponents of a bill that would curb public employee unions rallied outside Memorial Civic Center early Tuesday evening.
A smaller number of proponents of Senate Bill 5 also waved signs, expressing their support along Market Avenue. Many were from area tea party groups.
The counterprotests were spurred by an appearance by Gov. John Kasich at the annual dinner meeting of the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce at the civic center.
''He's wrong on every fracking issue,'' said a sign worn by Kent State University student Micah Miller, 22, of Canton. The sign referred to the governor's support of a controversial natural gas drilling practice
The McKinley High School graduate saw several of his former teachers at the gathering. He said the governor is wrong to back Senate Bill 5.
''I remember him saying he wouldn't negotiate with anyone unless they made something,'' Miller said. ''Teachers make the best thing of all: They make educated citizens.''
Senate Bill 5 would end collective bargaining rights for state workers and restrict teachers, firefighters, police, university employees and local workers in their bargaining abilities.
''I, of course, don't agree with this bill,'' said Mike Ferrance, 34, of Canal Fulton. ''I think it hurts teachers. It hurts police. It hurts firefighters. It hurts everybody. Unions built this country.''
He accompanied his wife, Sheila, 34, a teacher in Summit County's Revere school district.
''I think everybody works hard,'' she said. ''We have to be supportive of each other.''
Tea party member Dianna Greenwood said union leaders have exaggerated the impact the bill would have on their membership.
Greenwood, 38, of Canton, said public employees pay less toward their health and pension benefits than private-sector workers.
''The unions aren't bringing any ideas to the table,'' said Greenwood, who is executive director of the New American Patriots, a tea party group in her former home county of Ashland.
But one 14-year state employee said his union has had three concessionary contracts in the last nine years.
Michael Kennedy, 47, of Canton, said those last three contracts show union workers are willing to give on economic issues.
He accompanied colleague Dennis Mathieu, 45, who wore a barrel and suspenders to Tuesday's protest.
''He's in the barrel because if Senate Bill 5 passes, he'll be over it,'' Kennedy said.
Mathieu is a police officer at Heartland Behavioral Healthcare, a Massillon facility operated by the Ohio Department of Mental Health. He said he supports his family of seven — wife, three children and two grandchildren — on an annual salary of $55,000.
Kennedy remembered a time when, in his opinion, safety was inadequate at Heartland. Increases in security were brought about, in part, through the collective bargaining process, he said.
Portage County Tea Party member Terry Latacki, 67, carried a sign that said, ''We support Governor Kasich.''
The Brimfield Township resident said he doesn't believe in union-busting, but the $8 billion shortfall threatening the state breaks down to $700 for each resident.
''Teachers,'' Latacki said, ''you've got to be part of this discussion.''