COLUMBUS — Fresh from their lopsided victory at the polls, conservative groups behind the health care ballot issue announced Thursday plans to swing for the bleachers with their next effort to make Ohio a Right to Work state.
The language of the so-called Workplace Freedom Amendment would add a 22nd right to the Bill of Rights in the Ohio Constitution to prevent mandatory participation in a workplace union or a requirement that non-members pay fair share fees or other assessments in lieu of dues.
The latter provision was part of Senate Bill 5, which voters overwhelmingly rejected at the polls on Tuesday as Issue 2.
“We defend the freedom of all Ohioans to be free of forced participation in a labor organization just as a condition of employment…,’’ said Chris Littleton, former president of the Ohio Liberty Council, the closest thing to a statewide Tea Party organization. “If any Ohio worker wants to join a union, they should be free to do so,’’ he said. “But if any Ohio worker does not want to join a union, they should be free to make their decision as well.’’
It would mark the first real Right to Work effort since Ohio overwhelming rejected a similar proposal in 1958 following a contentious battle that cost Republicans the governor’s mansion and other state offices that were on the ballot at the same time.
Democrats have argued that current law prevents workers who refuse to join a certified bargaining unit from freeloading on the system by still benefiting from contracts they didn’t help to support. They predicted Thursday that a battle over a Right to Work ballot issue would eclipse the contentious fight that just killed Senate Bill 5 affecting only public employees.
“Right to Work will affect all employees,’’ Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo) said. “I’m from Toledo, heart of (United Autoworkers of America) country. This would affect them. Do you think those employees are going to stand still? Are they going to accept something like that? No way… I think they’ll have a bigger battle on their hands than Senate Bill 5.’’
She and fellow Senate Democrats Thursday proposed their own constitutional amendment to prevent lawmakers from trying to again pass laws shot down by voters via referendum. Democrats don’t have the votes in either chamber to put such a question on the ballot, but even if it were in place today, it would not prevent citizens from proposing a constitutional amendment to put provisions similar to Senate Bill 5 in the Ohio Constitution.
The proposed language was submitted Thursday to Attorney General Mike DeWine, who must first sign off on the accuracy of the language before supporters of the amendment may begin gathering the roughly 386,000 signatures needed to put the question on the ballot. If they reach that threshold by July, the question could appear on the presidential election ballot in 2012. It remains to be seen whether they could qualify in that period.
It took more than a year for them to gather the signatures to get Issue 3 on this year’s ballot and that was with a last-minute infusion of help from the Ohio Republican Party eager to get it on the ballot to draw voters to counter Issue 2. Mr. Littleton said there’s been no such commitment from the party this time around, and he conceded it could be an uphill battle to make the 2012 ballot.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.