Billboards Reignite Debate Over ‘Right To Work’ Proposal

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The union-funded billboards on State Route 315 near the Ohio State campus compare the right to work proposal to Soviet policies and say "Workplace Freedom Act Poisons Workers."(Photo: Steve Brown, WOSU News)
The union-funded billboards on State Route 315 near the Ohio State campus compare the right to work proposal to Soviet policies and say "Workplace Freedom Act Poisons Workers."(Photo: Steve Brown, WOSU News)

In late 2011, just days after Ohio voters repealed new restrictions on public employee unions, conservative activists went to work on a key part of Senate Bill 5: the banning of mandatory union dues.

“Right-to-work” laws were passed last year in Michigan and Indiana , and the Workplace Freedom Act could be headed for an upcoming Ohio ballot. Backers says it’s about choice; organized labor calls it blatant union busting.

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It’s here, on the side of State Route 315 near the Ohio State University campus, that unions have taken their fight against the “right-to-work” proposal with two attention-getting billboards: One with the words “Workplace Freedom Act” over a Soviet hammer and sickle, the other with a skull and crossbones telling drivers “Workplace Free Act Poisons Workers.”

Dan Kirk is president of a local Teamsters office and traveled to Michigan to rally against the “right-to-work” proposal there.

If ‘right-to-work’ comes in, it destroys the working family. Wages are cut, benefits are cut, working conditions are cut. It’s a long list of things, and it doesn’t matter what union you’re in.

Several Ohio unions have contributed to Keep Ohio’s Heritage, a political action committee formed last year to fight ‘right-to-work.’ It raised about $20,000 in the final half of 2012.

As unions continue their campaign against the proposal, the campaign for banning mandatory union dues rolls along.

The new television ad comes from the political action committee Ohioans for Workforce Freedom. Home builders, business groups, and others who could benefit from weaker unions have donated more than $130,000 to the PAC.

Strategist Chris Littleton leads the effort. He also led the landslide victory for a 2011 state constitutional amendment designed to let Ohio opt-out of health care mandates. He’s confident supporters will collect the nearly 400,000 signatures by July to get “right-to-work” on the November ballot.

We know what the people feel on this, we know what they want, we know what their desire is. So all we want to do is get it to the ballot and let them decide.

The most recent polls seem to support Littleton: A survey by Quinnipiac University last year found 54 percent of Ohio voters think workers should be able to opt out of unions. Forty percent oppose making union membership optional.

Ohio State University sociologist Andrew Martin studies organized labor. He says Southern states have long liked “right-to-work,” but Northern industrial states like Ohio initially rejected it.

“There was some effort to get ‘right-to-work’ laws passed, but they weren’t as successful. Now there is a renewed effort in states like Michigan, like Ohio, like Indiana, to get that passed.”

While Democrats are united in their opposition to “right-to-work,” the issue divides conservatives. As gung-ho Tea Party groups gather signatures, more-moderate Republicans don’t want a repeat of their Senate Bill 5 defeat. Governor John Kasich says “right-to-work” is not a priority for him.

Conservative strategist Chris Littleton says he knows why.

Who from the established political world likes the idea of getting involved with unions? Unions are unbelievably strong, they’re very influential, they’re very powerful, they spend a lot of money.

Another group of Littleton’s, the Ohio Liberty Coalition, has openly mocked Kasich and many other Republicans for ignoring the issue.

However much the two sides spend gathering signatures and in an ensuing ad war, it likely will pale in comparison to the Senate Bill 5 campaign, where combined spending surpassed $40 million.

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