About 200 people rallied in Peden Stadium’s parking lot Wednesday afternoon to protest Ohio University laying off 140 union employees.
The motorcade rally was organized by the OU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, or AAUP, and OU’s American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME Local 1699.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a traditional protest was not possible. Instead, protestors gathered in their cars to appropriately social distance, said Jennifer Fredette, organizer of the rally and associate professor of political science at OU.
“Our main goal is a firing freeze, which includes halting non-renewals, reinstating COVID-19 layoffs and capping salaries at Governor Mike DeWine’s,” Fredette said.
The rally began at Peden Stadium and continued down South Shafer Street. It looped around to College Green from West Union Street, where an AAUP representative delivered a petition to Cutler Hall. During the rally, workers, students, professors and Athens residents hung signs and cans on their cars, honked and yelled out the window in support of the unions.
“It’s too easy to cut the low-hanging fruit workers,” Pat Waller, president of AFSCME Local 1252, which is supporting Local 1699, said. “They’re the backbone of the university. And those workers are just as important as the president (of the university).”
Facebook and Twitter pages were also set up to support workers and professors by Olivia Gemarro, a rising senior studying english creative writing and sociology-criminology pre-law.
Gemarro said she was impressed with how quickly the event grew on social media and the turnout to the rally. Since last Thursday, when she created the Twitter account, she gained over 1,300 followers nationwide.
Gemarro said she wanted to promote the event after seeing professors and OU workers losing their jobs.
“I’m definitely not going to stand for this,” Gemarro said.
OU announced it was laying off positions such as grounds and maintenance workers on May 1 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are also the equivalent of about 32 full-time positions and 17 positions that will remain unfilled under the early retirement incentive plan, according to a previous Post report.
“Stop the madness,” Denise Trainer, vice president of AFSCME 1699, said. “This is our community. These are our lives. We’re not transplant workers, and I hope someone understands.”