ProgressOhio leader leaving for United Auto Workers job


By Jason Hart | Ohio Watchdog

Brian Rothenberg is leaving his leadership role at activist group ProgressOhio for a position with United Auto Workers, one of ProgressOhio’s many union donors.

Brian Rothenberg

As a senior communications adviser for UAW, Rothenberg will be directly paid by a labor union, after several years of getting paid by labor unions indirectly.

Unions reported payments totaling $122,500 to ProgressOhio and sister nonprofit ProgressOhio Education in their fiscal 2013 reports to the U.S. Department of Labor. Unions gave ProgressOhio $134,500 in 2012, $97,000 in 2011 and $136,450 in 2010.

Regular union contributors to ProgressOhio include UAW Region 2B, Ohio Education Association and Service Employees International Union District 1199.

Rothenberg has been paid a six-figure salary to help ProgressOhio “provide a progressive voice for Ohio’s citizens” and “inform and education the public about progressive ideals,” based on the 501(c)(4) nonprofit’s annual disclosures to the IRS.

Rothenberg was paid $113,116 in 2012, $110,124 in 2011 and $107,730 in 2010.

Labor union influence of ProgressOhio goes further than donations and payments for research and other consulting services. As of 2012, more than a third of the 16 members on ProgressOhio’s board of directors included were union officials:

  • American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 8 political and legislative director Robert Davis
  • OEA vice president Bill Leibensperger
  • UAW Region 2B director Ken Lortz
  • Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (AFSCME Local 11) president Chris Mabe
  • SEIU District 1199 public affairs director Monica Moran
  • Ohio AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Pierette Talley

In October, ProgressOhio Education Fund announced its annual “Progressive Hero” award will be presented Nov. 17 to former UAW president Bob King. At the ceremony held at UAW 2B headquarters in Maumee, ProgressOhio will honor King “for all his work but especially his role in saving the American auto industry thus benefiting all Ohioans.”

Past Progressive Hero events have been generously supported by the labor unions represented on ProgressOhio’s board of directors.

During ProgressOhio’s search for Rothenberg’s replacement, former Cleveland Plain Dealer statehouse bureau chief Sandy Theis will serve as interim director, the group announced Nov. 4.

“The mission of ProgressOhio will remain largely the same, but I hope the increased number of fiscal conservatives elected to the General Assembly will join with ProgressOhio, StudentsFirst, Fordham and others who are deeply concerned that too many charter schools are wasting millions of dollars and hurting thousands of kids each year,” Theis said in an email to Ohio Watchdog.

“I hope this is one of those no-brainers that can unite the two parties,” she added.

ProgressOhio and donor OEA have both pushed for increased regulation of charter schools — focusing in particular on charters run by Concept Schools, a business under state and federal investigation. Framing unionized public school districts’ shortcomings as evidence they need more funding, ProgressOhio and OEA are highly critical of school choice programs redirecting state funds to non-union charter schools.

Rothenberg’s move to Detroit coincides with a leadership change at the Ohio Democratic Party, where Rothenberg was communications director prior to joining ProgressOhio. ODP chair Chris Redfern is stepping down in mid-December.

Rothenberg has been executive director of ProgressOhio since the state affiliate of national leftist advocacy network ProgressNow was launched in 2006. Redfern has led ODP since 2005.