Right-to-Work? Try “Duty-to-Legislate”

Ohio State Senators are elected to serve four years at a time–but you’d think terms were 2 ½ years, judging from their recent failures to represent constituents.

The Senate’s whiff on Right-to-Work legislation earlier this month says it all.  On May 1, twin bills intended to strip unions of the ability to charge dues from non-members were introduced in the House, after which Senate President Keith Faber effectively killed them.

“We have an ambitious agenda focused on job creation and economic recovery, and Right-to-Work legislation is not on that list,” said Faber.

Faber’s statement came hours after State Reps. Kristina Roegner and Ron Maag introduced them and, as the Dayton Daily News reported, shortly after Faber met with House Speaker William Batchelder and Governor Kasich. Faber had signaled that the bills, even if passed in the House, would languish in the Senate.

According to him, “The only purpose this discussion serves right now is to generate a bunch of breathless fundraising appeals from the Ohio Democratic Party.”

But Faber’s blackballing of the legislation hasn’t stopped Democrats from fundraising on the issue.  Meanwhile, the Senate President’s hostility seems to have stalled House progress, which cancelled its scheduled Tuesday hearing of the bills and, as of Thursday morning, hasn’t rescheduled them.

The sequence of events (and Faber’s comments) demonstrates the Ohio Republican leadership’s unwillingness to wade into any territory that might rock the political boat 18 months out from the 2014 election. Practically speaking, Republicans view the length of senate and gubernatorial terms to be approximately 2 1/2 years, after which they shift into campaign gear and only nominally govern.

What else could we reasonably conclude when Ohioans overwhelmingly support making Ohio a Right-to-Work—also known as workplace freedom—state?  Right-to-Work has polled favorably in Ohio, with support from 54% of Ohioans in February 2012 (just four months after the repeal of SB5), and 65% of Ohioans in March 2013.  Unfortunately, Faber doesn’t consider representing Ohioans worth the risk of activating the union political machine the year before an election year.

Though Ohioans didn’t support the sweeping union reforms in SB5, workplace freedom was one popular aspect of the law.  Had the bills passed, they would have prohibited mandatory participation in a union or payment of union-related fees as a condition of employment. Under current Ohio law, private sector unions can require (force) union membership. Public sector employees have some protection—they can’t be forced to join a union, but they can be forced to pay “fair share” fees that can equal union dues. The legislators also introduced a joint resolution to put a workplace freedom measure on the statewide ballot this fall.

Support for workplace freedom has only grown in the last year, perhaps fueled by concerns that Ohio will now be competing for jobs with Michigan and Indiana, workplace freedom neighbors.  The Dispatch found that 70% of people ages 18 – 34 support Right-to-Work.  As one Dispatch pollster noted, “it wouldn’t be surprising that a whole generation of folks is growing up in households that are not union households.” Perhaps the younger generation also realizes that they are bearing the costs of the crushing union pensions their elders have accumulated.

While there is little doubt that unions and Democrats would mount an aggressive battle to fight workplace freedom legislation, it’s doubtful that they could demagogue the issue in the same way they distorted the complicated, many-faceted SB5. The two simple workplace freedom bills would likely be widely supported by the general public, so a nasty campaign against the concepts of “freedom” and the “right to choose” could backfire for unions.

Workplace freedom proponents can point to a recent event that, if widely publicized, could sway voters in the direction of union reform: the Strongsville teachers strike.

The recent 8-week long strike that tore apart the close-knit community may change the way Ohioans think about forced union membership. This strike got so ugly, so quickly that the community turned on the union and teachers in unprecedented ways. Teachers, led by their union leaders in the Strongsville Education Association (SEA) used Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals’ tactics against the school board and against “SCABS” (i.e., workers hired to replace strikers). Teachers were recorded spitting at substitute teachers and screaming at students and parents as they arrived at school each day. They printed up “SCAB” fliers to distribute in the neighborhoods of substitute teachers and (illegally) picketed at the places of business of school board members.

Parents quickly mobilized to counter the union’s bullying tactics, putting up a website and Facebook sites to share information and to support their children and the subs. By the end of the strike, a survey found that 74% of Strongsville voters opposed it. Seventy-two percent said their opinion of the union had gotten worse, and–amazingly–63% of union households opposed the strike.  Many in Strongsville—even many of those who previously opposed SB5—are calling for union reforms; they want to make teacher strikes illegal. The strike fractured the community and severely damaged the reputation of the union that, in the words of a Strongsville parent, took the “community and school system hostage.”

We all know good, decent, caring teachers and other union members who would never behave like the mob in Strongsville. However, they are compelled to either join the union or are required to pay exorbitant “fair share” fees as a condition of employment. Those decent teachers, construction workers, and plumbers should be at the front of the line to fight for workplace freedom. There’s a reason that Indiana unions lost 56,000 members since the state passed RTW last March. A silent majority of forced union members want the right to choose.

Right-to-Work—workplace freedom—is an important step in attracting and maintaining Ohio jobs, and the freedom to join a labor union must include the freedom to opt out of one. There is no evidence to suggest that Ohioans would not support such a measure. On the contrary, recent polls and events suggest that there is broad bipartisan support for this first step to union reform. It may even be an issue to help the Republicans attract the all important youth demographic.

While an effort is underway to gather signatures for a workplace freedom ballot issue, first and foremost this is the responsibility of our elected legislators. When we elect them, we expect them to serve and legislate for their entire term, not just until they begin running for re-election. There is no guarantee we will have such an opportunity after the next election. The goal should be to accomplish as much as possible until their final minute in office, not to fly under the radar as much as possible, which seems to be the current Ohio Republican strategy.

Morton Blackwell, founder of the Leadership Institute, says that “Governing is campaigning by different means.”  Good governing is good campaigning.  Naming bridges is not governing; neither is it a good strategy for convincing voters that you’re worth re-electing.

Such a strategy is lazy and lacks political courage.


Featured-Columnist1Paula Bolyard is a Christian first, conservative second, and Republican third. She is a member of the Wayne County Executive Committee and is owner and moderator of the Ohio Homeschool Yahoo! Group. She is a contributor at PJ Media LifestylePJ Media, and RedState.


Michael Hamilton contributed to this article.