Just two days after voters resoundingly defeated an anti-union measure, a tea party coalition has launched a drive to make Ohio a right-to-work state.
A new group called Ohioans for Workplace Freedom announced Thursday it is working to collect at least 386,000 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot, possibly as soon as next November.
“Polling shows overwhelmingly that Ohioans think you shouldn’t have to join a union,” said Tom Zawistowski, of Kent, who is president of the Portage County Tea Party and executive director of the Ohio Liberty Council, which supports the new effort.
“A lot of people in the patriot movement feel this was a key component of Senate Bill 5 that never came out.”
Sixty-one percent of voters on Tuesday rejected a wide-ranging law that would have curbed the rights of 350,000 public union workers statewide.
Ohio is one of 28 states that require employees to join unions or pay fair-share dues as a condition of employment in a place where workers are represented by unions. Twenty-two other states, primarily in the South and West, are right-to-work states in which employees have the choice not to join.
The goal of the proposed constitutional amendment is to “unleash an economic engine,” said Bryan C. Williams, former state legislator and board of elections director from Akron who is helping to organize the effort.
He said his employer, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Ohio, has been trying to make headway on right-to-work legislation for years.
The ABC represents 900 nonunion companies that employ 35,000 statewide.
Chris Littleton, co-founder of the Ohio Liberty Council, told the Associated Press that the group would submit the proposed wording for its amendment to the state’s attorney general on Thursday.
The group needs the attorney general’s approval of its phrasing before it can start collecting enough signatures by July to get the measure on 2012 ballots.
Time is of the essence because of the effort it takes to get an issue on the ballot, said the Liberty Council’s Zawistowski.
The council and a subgroup called the Ohio Project spent 18 months collecting signatures to get the anti-federal health care State Issue 3 on this week’s ballot, which passed.
“We’re not against unions,” Zawistowski said. “You should be free to join unions. We’re about individual freedoms.”
Many observers quickly discredited the right-to-work effort, though.
Raymond Cox, a professor of public administration and urban studies at the University of Akron, said that right-to-work is a huge threat to unions.
“When you start killing off fair share, you start strangling unions financially and eventually the union will have great trouble existing.”
He said that while many manufacturing jobs may migrate to right-to-work states, that is only a way station en route to Mexico, Thailand and China as companies pursue still-lower wages.
Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga said in a prepared statement that Gov. John Kasich and other GOP leaders should “stop these extreme initiatives.”
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the governor wants to create a “jobs-friendly climate.”
“Right now is the time to pause and take stock of the best way to do that,” Nichols said. “Now’s not the time to be taking up or considering these types of issues.”
Carol Biliczky can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3729.