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Faded Union


Larry came from a middle-class home on the west side of Nelsonville. Historically, the west side was the neighborhood where the coal miners resided. Many of the homes were duplexes, and some still are. "My grandfather told me stories about how he used to get beat up by people on the east side of town if they found him in their neighborhood," Larry recalls. Some things have changed, and some things stay the same. Some people still judge Missie when she tells them which street she lives on. Years ago, the west side was divided by train tracks that have since been replaced, leaving a scar of grey-colored brick that clashes with the red brick, which is uniform in the Nelsonville streets. The train tracks and miners are gone but the stigma remains.

This isn't the America I came of age in.—Larry Ervin

Larry is the head of the Life Safety Shop at Ohio University. The shop deals with fire detectors, sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers and fire pumps. He and two other men are responsible for fire systems in 200 buildings on Ohio University's campus. "It's non-stop. With that many facilities, something's bound to break down," Larry says.

Tonight, Larry has been at work since 3 a.m. He was called in to fix a fire alarm system that triggered for no apparent reason. It's raining, and the residents of Adams Hall on South Green are not thrilled with their unwanted wake up call. Larry and Wayne Sharpe, Larry's "right-hand man" do their job to silence the alarm so the students can get back to sleep. That's just the beginning. Now, Larry and Wayne have to figure out what is causing the problem and they must replace the broken element. In this case, the air compressor pump in the sprinkler system is at fault. They have it replaced and fully operational by lunchtime. Larry is on call 24/7, which has affect his home life.

Every day, when Larry parks his truck outside the Life Safety Shop, he places signs in the front and back windshields with messages urging people to repeal Senate Bill 5. Larry grew up witnessing union activism. He remembers as a young boy seeing his father leaving home one night with a blanket and a pillow. His father was heading out to help with picket duty in support of an AFSCME Local 1699 strike at Ohio University. The University had fired all of the unionized employees for striking. The picket protest worked, and the University eventually hired back the workers. His father's protest had a huge effect on Larry's concept of the power and importance of a union.

Since then Larry has done his best to be active in helping the union achieve its goal, getting a vote on Senate Bill 5 on the ballot before this year's elections in November. Larry has attended union rallies, and he has sacrificed his free time to petition-training seminars to learn how to properly gather signatures. On a Friday evening after work, Larry walks around the town square in Nelsonville. He speaks with individuals and asks them to sign the petition. By the end of the night, he has gathered 20 signatures. "Every signature counts," he tells his son, Jacob.

A lot of people have changed from the concept of ‘we,’ to the concept of ‘me.’—Larry Ervin

The following day, Larry went to the farmers market in Athens where he was able to gather another 80 signatures.

"Now I have everything. I have a beautiful home, I can have anything I want. You know, sometimes we have to save for it, but I feel like I have the American Dream and I don't have to pump water anymore to get it," Missie laughs.

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