One Ohio family faces the decline of American labor unions.
"We are living a dream that is slowly turning into a nightmare," says a women addressing the crowd. The words roll over 10,000 union supporters who stand listening during a "Repeal Senate Bill 5 Rally" in front of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. Larry Ervin's voice joins 10,000 others in front of the Ohio Statehouse, as chants of "we are Ohio," echo across the green.
Larry stands with his 14-year-old son, Benjamin, in a throng of people that includes firefighters, police officers, teachers and other pubic sector workers. They have come out to stand in opposition to Senate Bill 5, which strips public sector employees of many of their union rights.
The public sector unions of Ohio have come under fire recently as the national trend of union busting bills has gripped the nation. In eight states, there is some type of union reform bill aimed at taking away some of the most powerful rights that enable unions to protect their workers. Some of the biggest issues affecting these unions include the loss of the right to collective bargaining and a change from step based pay increases based on seniority to pay increases based on merit.
This scene is nothing new to Larry; unions are in his blood. Larry was born into a union family, and that legacy lives on through him. Larry is a third generation employee at Ohio University and a second generation union member of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) local 1699 that represents 556 workers at Ohio University. Larry's Great-Grandfather was a coal miner. His grandfathers were coal miners. His father was a union painter for Ohio University who worked 38 years to carve out a middle-class lifestyle for his family.
"I met Larry and then I met his family and I almost quit dating him because I thought, "Oh, they're too rich, their house is too fancy, not even realizing that that's just normal middle-class life. I didn't realize how poor I was," Missie Ervin said. She was 18 when she met Larry. Larry and Missie will be married 20 years come May 25. When they met, Larry was doing custodial work at Ohio University. They met Christmas eve. They were dating when Missie worked at a Pizza Hut in West Virginia. They dated five months and got married. After they married, Missie came to live with Larry in an old trailer he was renting in Shade, Ohio. When Larry's parents' home went up for sale, Missie insisted they buy it, keeping the next generation of Ervin's under the same roof for more than 100 years. "I didn't even know if I wanted to have kids," explained Missie. Now they have three children Rachael, Jacob and Benjamin.
I didn't realize how poor I was.—Missie Ervin
Missie grew up in a small shack in rural West Virginia. She went without shoes when the weather was warm. The family didn't have electricity. They hiked up a hill to collect their water from a nearby waterfall.
Larry's steely blue eyes are distant as he recalls Missie's upbringing. "She didn't have nothing growing up, nothing monetarily and no support. If she had had the support and encouragement that our children have, its hard to tell where she would have been. She probably wouldn't be married to me," Larry says, as he laughs heartily. His whole body bounces with his guffaws.
Despite having a hard life growing up, Missie sees her experience in a positive light. "I don't think I would be the person I am today had I not been born into the environment I was born into," she says with a smile.
Missie worked as a teacher's aide at Nelsonville-York public school until she was laid off due to budget cuts. She assisted teachers with kindergarten students, helping children learn their numbers, colors and other basic skills.
Missie has since been hired back as a cafeteria aide, and she still considers her job about being there for the kids, not just working the cash register. Missie shows up early to work to help the women prepare the food. She looks to assist anyway she can. Missie cares a great deal for the kids she rings up. She gets to know their personalities and what they tend to purchase,. She often jokes with them or provides solutions to daily problems that arise. Missie and Larry anonymously help pay for many of the kids' meals, helping kids who may otherwise go hungry during lunch period. "Money isn't important. Making sure these kids have a hot meal in their stomachs is what matters to us," Missie explains.