Wisconsin Becomes a Right-to-Work State Joining Others in Our Region

This week, Wisconsin became the 25th Right-to-Work state in the nation. The last two states to enact similar legislation were Ohio neighbors Michigan and Indiana, both in 2012. The idea behind Right-to-Work is to prevent workers from being forced to join or pay dues to a union as a condition of employment.

Because three Great Lakes states have gone to Right-to-Work in succession, discussions about doing the same in Ohio may intensify. In Ohio, however, it’s not as simple as having the legislature pass a bill establishing Right-to-Work. Here, we have the referendum process where any bill passed by the General Assembly is subject to review and approval or rejection by voters.

We all remember what happened to Senate Bill 5, Ohio’s 2011 effort to reform collective bargaining for public sector employees. Union opposition was strong, and labor spearheaded a referendum challenge to SB 5 after it was signed by Gov. John Kasich. The effort became Issue 2 on the November 2011 statewide ballot, and the law was ultimately repealed by a 62%-38% vote. Collective bargaining isn’t the same as Right-to-Work, but organized labor is even more adamantly opposed to the latter.

The certainty of a referendum on any Right-to-Work legislation may cause members of the Ohio General Assembly to shy away from the issue. Why go through the trouble of passing a law that would for sure be challenged and could be overturned? Gov. Kasich, for his part, has made it clear that Right-to-Work is not on his agenda, recently calling it “unnecessary”.

Thus, the most viable path to enacting Right-to-Work in Ohio is probably through a citizen-initiated statewide ballot proposal. This approach would put the issue before the voters directly, without needing the General Assembly to first pass a bill.

While such an effort is supposedly underway, it’s a long way from appearing before voters. In early 2012, a group called Ohioans for Workplace Freedom received approval to begin circulating petitions for a Right-to-Work constitutional amendment. Three years later, the group’s website indicates they’ve only gathered about 25 percent of the signatures necessary to qualify the proposal for the ballot.