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Could Ohio Become a Right-to-Work State?

Fresh off a resounding ballot-issue victory at the polls, many of those who worked to pass Issue 3, the "Ohio Healthcare Freedom Amendment," on November 8, thereby hardwiring a statewide rejection of ObamaCare's mandates into Ohio's Constitution, have begun the process of getting a right-to-work initiative on the ballot in 2012 or 2013.

A spokesman for the usually aggressive John Kasich indicates that the Buckeye State's governor, fresh from the stinging defeat of Issue 2, his signature public-sector cost control and collective-bargaining reform law, doesn't find this development particularly helpful: "Right now is the time to pause and take stock. ... Now's not the time to be taking up or considering these types of issues."

As explained at the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a self-described "legal center dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of Ohioans from government abuse," Ohio's right-to-work initiative would provide that:

  • "No law, rule, agreement, or arrangement shall require any person or employer to become or remain a member of a labor organization."
  • "No law, rule, agreement, or arrangement shall require, directly or indirectly, as a condition of employment, any person or employer, to pay or transfer any dues, fees, assessments, other charges of any kind, or anything else of value, to a labor organization, or third party in lieu of the labor organization."

It also "would not prevent any person from voluntarily belonging to or providing support to a labor organization," and would not affect preexisting agreements and contracts.

Currently, the U.S. has 22 right-to-work states. All of them are in the South, West, and Central Midwest. During the past 15 years, these states have collectively outperformed the rest of the nation to an almost embarrassing degree.

The aforementioned 1851 Center has a strong rundown of key statistics and facts, including these:

  • "From 1995 to 2005, incomes of residents in right-to-work states grew by 142 percent more than the incomes of Ohioans," and "private-sector job growth was 500% greater."
  • After passing right-to-work legislation in 1986 and 2001, respectively, Idaho and Oklahoma both experienced explosive growth in their economies and overall employment.
  • An after-tax dollar earned in a right-to-work state has more real purchasing power than it does in other states, "because union labor tends to raise (the) costs of goods and services."

I took a look at economic growth in the individual states during the past decade as measured by gross domestic product (GDP). What I found also shows that right-to-work states clearly outperformed the others:

GDPgrowthTop12bottom4for10yrsTo2010

The chart shows that right-to-work states made up nine out of the top twelve performers in economic growth during the past decade, while the four clear laggards, including Michigan and Ohio, whose economies both shrank, were not. 2001-2010 economic growth weighted by average population in all right-to-work states was 21.7%; in the rest of the states and the District of Columbia, it was only 13.6%. During the past thirty years, the tremendous leads in per-capita GDP industrial states like Ohio and Michigan once had over the right-to-work states have mostly and in a few cases entirely evaporated.

Despite the tantalizing prospects for economic improvement inherent in making Ohio a right-to-work state, it's hard to blame Kasich for his caution. On the same day Ohioans passed Issue 3 by a stunning 66%-34% margin, they rejected his Issue 2 by 61%-39%. These somewhat contradictory results would appear to make a right-to-work initiative's prospects -- and its potential impact on the 2012 presidential election -- more than a little murky.

It comes down to two critical questions:

  1. Do Buckeye State voters, as the Ohioans for Workplace Freedom umbrella group strongly believes, care as much about the fundamental freedom of being able to work anywhere they're hired without being forced in some cases to join a union -- or to pay its dues even if they don't join -- as they showed that they cared about being free of ObamaCare's mandates?
  2. Or are they more worried about Ohio's workers losing whatever "protections" supposedly exist (largely illusory, especially in the private sector) in union-controlled workplaces?

While it would be nice to get electoral answers to these questions, yours truly -- and I suspect most Americans who understand how paramount it is to oust President Barack Obama next year -- would prefer to wait until 2013 to find out. The last thing the country needs is to lose Ohio to Team Obama because a hyper-energized, spendthrift, out-of-state labor movement was able to maximize its sympathizers' turnout in this most critical and unpredictable of swing states.

Whether my 2013 ballot appearance preference prevails depends on how quickly proponents can gather the required signatures (about 500,000 to ensure that about 386,000 are accepted after review). The initiative's leaders, demonstrating their uncanny ability to be simultaneously endearing and infuriating, intend to pursue a 2012 ballot appearance if they have enough signatures by next year's relevant deadline, regardless of its effect on the presidential election, but will hold off and finish the job for the 2013 ballot if they don't. Given that they intend to pursue a primarily grassroots, blocking-and-tackling signature-gathering effort similar to the one used during the health care campaign (which was originally targeted for 2010 but was delayed until this year), I'm inclined to believe that we won't see the initiative get on the ballot until the year after we learn whether Barack Obama was reelected.

I hope I'm right.