Paul E. Kostyu reports:
The divisive battle over “right-to-work” legislation could be coming to Ohio next year.
As neighboring Michigan moved Tuesday to become a “right-to-work” state – and 10,000 protesters jammed the lawn of its Capitol – Ohio groups who support the laws say Ohio has to follow suit or watch jobs leave.
“When we are working with companies who want to investigate locations, the first question on their list is right to work,” said Phillip Parker, president and chief executive officer of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. He later backed off his statement at an afternoon press conference, but there are other indications the fight may be coming to Ohio.
A group called Ohioans for Workplace Freedom is gathering signatures to put the issue on the fall ballot. They need 385,253.
“Indiana has done this. Michigan will. What choice will Ohio have,” tea party activist Chris Littleton of West Chester told the Toledo Blade this week. “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?”
Senate Minority Leader Eric H. Kearney, D-North Avondale, told the Enquirer there are efforts by Republicans to introduce right-to-work legislation next year, but he could not identify who was leading that effort. House and Senate Republicans, however, deny there is any effort underway.
“Right-to-work” legislation means no one can be required to join a labor union or pay union dues. That would prevent closed shops or workplaces that require union membership to get a job.
In Michigan, the right-to-work legislation sped through the state Legislature without public discussion, committee hearings or any Democratic support. The legislation makes it illegal to require financial support of a labor union as a condition of employment.
For nearly two years, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder had said the right-to-work issue was too divisive and not on his agenda. But unions lost a ballot initiative Nov. 6 to enshrine collective bargaining in the state constitution. And after being pressured by his own party and several business interests, the governor endorsed the controversial bill and signed it Tuesday evening.
The law passed in Michigan even though about 17.5 percent of workers were union members in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Ohio, about 13.4 percent of workers are union members.
Gov. John R. Kasich has said making Ohio a right-to-work state isn’t a priority. But he hasn’t opposed it either – something state Democrats Tuesday were quick to call on him to do in a “crystal clear” way.
“Kasich seems intent on following Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s path, repeatedly assuring Ohioans a Right-to-Work law is not on his agenda, that is until his agenda miraculously changes,” said Ohio Democratic chairman Chris Redfern.
Kasich’s hesitancy to back a right-to-work law may be because of the beating he took over Senate Bill 5 last year. The Legislature passed and the governor signed into law an effort to limit the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
The law revived unions, including firefighters and police officers, who led the successful effort to repeal it. Some credit that effort with contributing to President Barack Obama’s victory in Ohio last month.
Kasich runs for re-election in 2014. Even without a right-to-work statute, Kasich said on Monday Ohio is competing well with other states. He said he had higher priorities.
Ohio added 127,000 jobs and is ranked fourth nationally and first in the Midwest in job creation, figures Kasich regularly promotes to anyone willing to listen.
“Ohio has momentum,” said Ellen G. van der Horst, president and chief executive officer of the Cincinnati Chamber. She noted Ohio was ranked as No. 2 in the country as an attractive business climate by Site Selection magazine.
Responding to questions from the Enquirer, Parker, standing in Columbus with leaders of chambers from across the state to release their Redesigning Ohio report, said Ohio needs the law to compete with Indiana and Michigan to keep or attract jobs.
Hours later, Parker backed off his statement saying he was only speaking for himself and not the other seven regional chamber, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce nor even his own. None of the chambers, however, disagreed with his comments when he made them early Tuesday afternoon.
Matt Davis, vice president of government affairs for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and who was at the press conference, distanced the Cincinnati chamber from Parker’s comments.
“We have not vetted the issue and do not have a position at this time,” he told The Enquirer about four hours later.
Kasich said this week he has a very aggressive agenda for the next two years to keep Ohio competitive, lessening the need for a right-to-work law. The governor plans to pursue tax cuts, infrastructure improvements and education reform.
All three are part of the chamber’s Redesigning Ohio report.
Jason Mauk, chief of staff for Senate Republicans, told The Enquirer there is no effort underway to introduce right-to-work legislation. The caucus will meet informally Friday to talk about next year’s agenda and will release a detailed plan in January. Mauk said he didn’t think it would come up.
Mauk also said Senate Republicans often listen to the views of the Chamber of Commerce, but “they don’t dictate our position.”
House Speaker William G. Batchelder told reporters today Republicans in his chamber are not actively pursuing an amendment. An avenue where it might show, he said, is the Constitutional Modernization Commission, a bipartisan group of 12 legislators and 20 non-legislative members meeting to decide whether changes need to be made to the Ohio Constitution.
Asked whether he would support a right-to-work amendment, Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Township, told The Enquirer, “I am mindful of the success of states that give workers that option, but I respect the right of people to bargain.”
A February poll by Quinnipiac University found Ohio voters support a right-to-work law 54 to 40 percent.
Many Republicans in Kentucky have pushed for making Kentucky a right-to-work state. The previous Republican governor, Ernie Fletcher, proposed making Kentucky a right-to-work state as did former Kentucky Senate President David Williams in his unsuccessful 2011 campaign against Gov. Steve Beshear. The Democratic-controlled House and governor, however, have not supported the measure.
Contributing: David Jesse and Lori Higgins of the Detroit Free Press and Scott Wartman.