Why is Ohio still a forced unionism state, where labor bosses can have workers who refuse to pay union fees fired? As recently as 2012, Ohio was surrounded by forced unionism in every direction; now, workers in only one of Ohio’s five neighboring states lack right-to-work protections.
Six years with a Republican governor and supermajority Republican control of the Ohio General Assembly haven’t freed Ohioans from mandatory union fees. How have Republicans in Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri enacted right-to-work, while Ohio right-to-work bills die without so much as a committee vote?
When unions convinced voters to overturn the 300-page public union reform package Gov. John Kasich signed shortly after taking office, it became accepted wisdom that Ohio Republicans cannot beat Big Labor. To the extent this is true, it’s because Kasich and his legislative allies decided to roll over.
Unions capitalized on the complexity of Ohio Senate Bill 5 in 2011, dumping $40 million into front group We Are Ohio. Radio, TV, and web ads from the “citizen-driven, community-based bipartisan coalition” said the law would mean worse schools, understaffed hospitals, ill-equipped fire departments, and special loopholes for elected officials in Columbus.
Unlike SB 5, right-to-work is difficult to misrepresent: Right-to-work guarantees every worker has the freedom to choose whether to support a labor union, and that’s all.
In February 2012, just three months after SB 5 was repealed, Quinnipiac released poll results showing Ohioans supported right-to-work by a 54-40 margin. But by then Kasich, who has tacked left since SB 5, was already courting labor bosses for the sake of his personal ambitions.
The governor torpedoed the nascent Ohioans for Workplace Freedom initiative as it was raising money to put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2012, and he tried to kneecap right-to-work in West Virginia, too.
Kasich was endorsed by several construction unions — including International Union of Operating Engineers Local 18, whose “Protect Ohio’s Heritage” campaign has plastered billboards along Ohio’s highways with anti-right-to-work propaganda — when he ran for re-election in 2014. In 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported that Kasich had promised union bosses he would block right-to-work.
Kasich has embraced the union talking point that right-to-work is needlessly divisive. Wherever the policy is discussed, union bosses repeat the same arguments, warning that ending forced union fees will reduce workers’ pay, create “free riders” who unfairly benefit from union bargaining, and make workers more likely to be injured or killed on the job.
Not all Republican leaders accede to union demands in the name of labor peace. Since Ohio’s SB 5 referendum, union bosses’ arguments lost in Indiana and Michigan in 2012, Wisconsin in 2015, West Virginia in 2016, and Kentucky and Missouri this year. In the elections that have followed, voters have rewarded Republicans with continued legislative majorities and repeat gubernatorial wins.
With help from free-market think tanks, including the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and activist groups including Americans for Prosperity, lawmakers can easily explain decades of data showing higher job growth, higher income growth, higher population growth, and even higher union membership growth in states where workers can’t be fired for refusing to pay a union.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin campaigned on his support for right-to-work in 2015, and Republicans were able to implement the policy, because they won control of the Kentucky House in 2016 after doing the same.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens promised to sign right-to-work and was elected to succeed a Democrat who vetoed a right-to-work bill. Greitens had a chance to keep his campaign promise, because Republicans retained control of the Missouri General Assembly in 2016 after failing to override former Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of right-to-work the year before.
But in Ohio, Kasich and a cadre of union-funded Republican legislators have prevented any progress toward ending mandatory union fees. Rep. John Becker, a Republican from the Cincinnati area, has introduced the latest in a series of bills challenging the status quo.
“It’s about freedom. Right-to-work frees workers from the mandate that they must subsidize unions or be fired,” Becker told The American Spectator.
Becker’s Ohio House Bill 53 would end forced union fees for public employees, addressing “free rider” concerns by ensuring workers do not receive representation they don’t want and aren’t paying for. The bill was introduced in February with a dozen cosponsors.
Under current Ohio law, hundreds of public employers force workers to pay unions, as a condition of employment. The largest public employee union in the state is the Ohio Education Association, whose staff and officers are paid an average of more than $100,000 using money taken from teachers’ paychecks.
Shortly before HB 53 was introduced, Ohio Senate Finance Committee chairman Scott Oelslager told reporters right-to-work is doomed in Ohio because it’s the same as SB 5.
Oelslager, who signed a We Are Ohio pledge to fight right-to-work in 2014, received $102,846 in campaign contributions from labor unions during the 2016 election cycle, and he’s not the only Republican in the Ohio Senate accepting union money.
Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof took union contributions totaling $141,497 during the 2016 cycle, while Majority Floor Leader Randy Gardner received $173,462 and Majority Whip Gayle Manning received $150,815.
Republican Sen. Frank LaRose reported $115,532 in union contributions during the 2016 cycle, and nine Ohio Senate Republicans received between $50,000 and $100,000 from unions. All said and done, unions funneled more than $1.8 million into Ohio Senate Republican campaign committees from 2015-16.
The Ohio Senate Republican Caucus shed labor boss ally Tom Patton this year due to term limits, but Patton — who received $210,068 in union contributions during the 2016 cycle — now serves as majority whip in the Ohio House.
From 2015-16, unions gave $18,155 to Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, $38,550 to Speaker Pro Tempore Kirk Schuring, and $24,350 to Assistant Majority Floor Leader Sarah LaTourette, whose late father, Steve LaTourette, was known for decades as one of the most pro-union Republicans in Congress.
Rep. Jim Hughes received $209,194 from unions during the 2016 cycle, Rep. Keith Faber received $103,647, and Rep. Larry Householder received $88,750. Ohio House Republican campaigns reported union contributions totaling almost $1.1 million from 2015-16.
Union investments have paid off during Kasich’s tenure, with continued prevailing wage mandates, costly defined-benefit public pensions, and no right-to-work protections for public or private sector workers. Despite the best efforts of union apologists in the legislature, a governor who learned from the success of Republicans in Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri could change that quickly.
Kasich is term limited in 2018, and at least three candidates are expected to seek the Republican nomination to replace him.
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