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Petitions seek ‘right to work’ in Ohio

Backers buoyed by Michigan; foes note voters’ drubbing of SB 5

COLUMBUS — As Michigan lawmakers prepare today to make the Wolverine State the latest right-to-work state, petitions are circulating on Ohio streets to put a similar issue directly before Buckeye voters.

“People are ready to double-down. … Michigan has revitalized a lot of our effort,” said Chris Littleton, former president of the Ohio Liberty Council, the closest thing Ohio has to a statewide Tea Party group.

He said the petition effort was sidetracked by the 2012 elections, but a meeting of regional volunteers last week was energized by what’s happening in Michigan. The goal is to gather roughly 380,000 signatures needed by early July to qualify for the November, 2013, election.

“Indiana has done this,” he said. “Michigan will. What choice will Ohio have? This is economic jet fuel for job creation, wage growth, and a vibrant Ohio economy. If two border states do this, how can Ohio afford not to do this?”

Opponents promise that if the issue does reach the ballot, the resulting fight would eclipse the one over Senate Bill 5 in 2011.

“We’ve got a fringe group in Ohio playing politics over something that was rejected not only last year but this year. ...,” said Tim Burgea, Ohio AFL-CIO president. “When you look at so-called ‘right-to-work,’ it’s obviously broader than what they were trying to do with public employees. They would take away the rights of the same folks as in Senate Bill 5 and also steelworkers, autoworkers, pipe fitters, electricians, and everybody in the private sector.”

The Ohio Workplace Freedom Amendment would add a 22nd right to the state constitution’s Bill of Rights, prohibiting mandatory participation in a workplace union or charge of “fair-share” fees to nonmembers in lieu of dues. The latter provision was part of a host of restrictions on public employee collective bargaining that 61 percent of voters rejected with the rest of Senate Bill 5.

Gov. John Kasich said Monday he had not watched Michigan’s fight closely, and he made it clear right-to-work is not on his immediate agenda. “I have a very aggressive agenda for 2013-14 that includes things like education reform — both at the university level, community college level, [and] K-12,” he said. “We have a big change coming on our infrastructure program, tax reform, managing a lot of these businesses, including fracking. That’s the agenda that I’m focused on and am going to continue to be focused on.”

He declined to address what he might do if a proposed constitutional amendment were to force the issue in 2013.

“Ohio law does not require a member of a bargaining unit to join a union,” state Rep. Matt Szollosi (D., Oregon) said. “The law does require the collective bargaining representative to represent every member of the bargaining unit, irrespective of their union status.

“There are costs associated with administering a collective bargaining agreement and for contract negotiations, arbitration, staff costs, and operating costs,” he said. “The right-to-work folks want folks to have all the benefits of collective bargaining — higher wages, benefits, and job security — without incurring any of the costs associated with delivering those benefits. That’s simply not fair.”

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