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Is right to work alive as an issue?

Published: Sun, March 9, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

Republican Gov. John Kasich, who is seeking re-election this year, has been avoiding the right-to-work issue like the plague, while the Republican leadership in the General Assembly says a proposed right-to-work bill won’t see the light of day. And, the Ohio GOP is determined not to let the issue become another Senate Bill 5.

Yet, unions in Ohio and their Democratic allies have a dire warning: A right-to-work bill will be taken up in the Legislature after the Nov. 4 general election.

“We don’t see a lot of traction or movement [on the issue] now, but it could move quickly in the lame-duck session,” Tim Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, told The Vindicator recently.

Collective bargaining

Burga explained that a tea party-type group took up the right-to-work issue in 2011, a day after Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected a move by Republicans to strip public employees of their long-held collective bargaining rights.

The referendum on Senate Bill 5 in the general election two years ago attracted more than 2 million voters. Sixty-two percent blocked the collective-bargaining reform law, which had been signed by Gov. Kasich, from taking effect.

Republicans are still licking their wounds from that resounding defeat, which is why they are steering clear of right to work. It has the potential of triggering as violent a reaction from the unions and the Ohio Democratic Party as Senate Bill 5.

But that also explains why Burga and others are determined to keep the issue alive — even though Kasich has made it perfectly clear that he has no interest in even talking about right to work.

But the president of Ohio AFL-CIO insists that people should not be lulled into a false sense of security.

“Not if, but when,” Burga said of the GOP’s plan to make Ohio a right-to-work state.

There’s a method to this seeming political madness — given that there’s nothing on the general election ballot this year.

Republicans control all statewide executive offices, from governor on down, and all but one of the seven Supreme Court seats. They also control the state House and Senate and have a huge advantage in Ohio’s congressional delegation.

In other words, these are bleak days for the Democratic Party. Add to that President Obama’s approval rating at less than 50 percent and his signature legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), turning off Democrats and Republicans alike, and 2014 doesn’t look good politically for the minority party.

Right to work might be its only hope to generate interest among its faithful.

About a year ago, a fund-raising email from state Rep. Kevin Boyce, D-Columbus, sought to frame the debate.

“Two Republican lawmakers recently introduced so-called right-to-work bills. Like Senate Bill 5, these proposals would destroy collective-bargaining rights and tilt the balance of power in favor of CEOs who put profits before people.

“This is not a drill. We need your help right now.

“You may have heard the bills were DOA in the Ohio General Assembly because Gov. John Kasich said so-called right to work is not on his agenda.

“We heard these same claims before in Indiana and in Michigan where both Republican governors said so-called right-to-work laws were not on their agendas right before they signed these anti-middle class laws almost overnight.”

If this sounds like crying wolf, it is.

Marshaling forces

Democrats would be much better off if a bill were enacted by the General Assembly and the governor signed it into law. Then, the same forces that were marshaled in 2011 could be brought to bear this year.

Democratic voters need a reason to show up at the polls this year. The party’s expected nominee for governor, Ed FitzGerald, Cuyahoga County executive, is not well known throughout the state.

Likewise, other expected challengers to Republican incumbents aren’t household names politically.

That’s why the Democrats need an issue so explosive that it will drive voters to the polls.

It is worth recalling that more than 1 million Ohioans signed the petitions to put Senate Bill 5 up for a referendum vote.

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