Since Indiana became the Rust Belt’s first casualty of the 2012 “Right-to-Work” crusade, the forces that be in Ohio have ramped up efforts to make the matter an issue of public referendum in the Buckeye State as well. The organization Ohioans for Workplace Freedom is trying to gain the necessary 386,000 signatures to put on the ballot a constitutional amendment that would, in their words, “guarantee the freedom of Ohioans to choose whether to participate in a labor organization as a condition of employment.”
Ohio, a key swing state in the 2012 election, will likely be flooded with misinformation about the bill throughout the coming election season. Proponents of the bill say it gives workers a choice while opponents claim it is an attempt to bust unions in the state. Most observers agree that it is, above all else, a divisive, partisan issue. All of the remaining Republican candidates have said they would support a federal “Right-to-Work” law, and out-of-state money is being spent by all parties.
The reaction to “Right-to-Work” in Ohio would likely resemble the impassioned response to last year’s Issue 2, the public referendum on Senate Bill 5, a bill which sought to gut workers’ rights to collectively bargain. Opponents of “Right-to-Work,” such as Tim Burga, chief of staff of the Ohio AFL-CIO, are speaking out:
[Burga] calls the issue “right to work for less.” He contends that right-to-work laws drive wages and benefits lower and do nothing to create new jobs. He cited a recent New York Times article that reported that six of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates have right-to-work laws.
“We had this debate all last year about workers’ rights and collective bargaining, and voters spoke very clearly,” said Burga, referring to Senate Bill 5, which would have weakened the ability of Ohio public-sector unions to collectively bargain and which voters overwhelmingly rejected.
James Winship, president of the International Union of Electronic Workers-Communication Workers of America Local 755 in Dayton, agrees:
[Winship} calls right-to-work legislation an attack on unions. When members stop contributing, unions “crumble,” he said. To counter that, Winship believes younger workers need to be reminded that unions have a history of winning for them benefits, including a 40-hour work week and child-protection labor laws, which they may now take for granted.
Winship also believes Indiana will lose in the long run. Without dues and members, union negotiators lose “clout” in workplaces, which ultimately puts pressure on wages and benefits — and tax revenue, he said. “Wait and see what happens with their tax base there,” Winship said.
An educated constituency may well be the enemy of the “Right-to-Work” amendment, though. Democrats will largely reject it and Republicans will come to see it as a political ploy. In many ways, “Right-to-Work” is simply an anti-union issue and is not part of peoples’ everyday vocabulary, according to the Dayton Daily News:
Dennis McLaughlin, a Middletown-based shareholder of business consultant Clark Schaefer and Hackett, works with manufacturers, many of them small, family-owned and non unionized. Right-to-work provisions don’t often come up in conversation with owners of those businesses, McLaughlin said. Taxes, regulations and other issues seem to be more critical to them, he said.
“My personal perception is, this (right to work) is a political issue,” McLaughlin said.
If the Ohio election turns into a referendum on Governor John Kasich’s administration, this increasingly purple state could go blue in November. Although Obama won Ohio in 2008, the 2010 midterms brought a Republican victory by Kasich, a former Wall Street tycoon, over incumbent Ted Strickland. Now, with his approval still low after the Issue 2 defeat (33% approve and 53% disapprove of Kasich), Public Policy Polling (PPP) shows that if voters could do the 2010 election over again they’d vote for Ted Strickland by a 20 point margin. These numbers, not coincidentally, track closely with the Senate Bill 5 repeal result from last fall.
Of course, these numbers are somewhat irrelevant because Kasich is not up for reelection and Strickland is currently the co-chair of President Obama’s campaign. From the same PPP release:
In 2010 Ohio voters elected a Republican Governor and went GOP in many House races, helping to elect a new Republican Speaker of the House from their state. Now they regret the Governor and don’t like the Speaker. It’s hard for me to imagine that buyer’s remorse isn’t going to work to the benefit of Barack Obama and other Democrats in the state this fall.
With resistance to a “Right-to-Work” constitutional amendment likely to be wide-ranging, the 2012 election seems to be the Democrats to take in Ohio. The state’s Senate race will feature incumbent Sherrod Brown, whose early lead in the polls will allow him to campaign for other progressive candidates across the state. Though Quinnipiac polling shows Rick Santorum as the Republican favorite in Ohio, it also shows that the issue most important to the average voter is the economy. If Republican candidates continue to steer the political conversation towards social issues and anti-labor policies while Democrats stay on course with a message of creating jobs, Ohio should both see a Democratic wave in the state house and the proposed constitutional “Right-to-Work” amendment defeated.