Right to work amendment unlikely to advance far

A legislative panel will consider adding “right to work” to the Ohio constitution, although it seems unlikely the proposal will be approved.

The Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission is reviewing the state constitution to make recommendations to the Ohio Legislature on subjects ranging from term limits to school funding.

The group has not asked citizens to chime in during the process, but “if any groups or organizations want to send in suggestions, they’re welcome to do that,” said Executive Director Steven Hollon.

However, one local union leader weighed in. Jason Barlow, president of UAW Local 402 in Springfield, said right to work added to Ohio’s constitution would be “terrible for the state of Ohio” and do nothing to improve the quality of life for the average Ohioan.

“It’s unfortunate that there are some business groups and individuals out there that are trying to mislead individuals, but if you look at the lowest ranking states in the United States, they’re right to work (states),” Barlow said.

“They have lower pay per capita,” he continued. “They have lower educational standards. They also have higher work-related incidents and they have higher poverty rates. It’s really sad.”

The panel recently received its first two suggested amendments from outside the commission via Matt Mayer of Dublin, president of Opportunity Ohio, a free-market think tank.

One amendment submitted March 30 is a right-to-work amendment that seeks to prohibit mandatory union membership, “dues, fees, assessments or other charges of any kind” at workplaces. The other, submitted March 4, would prohibit the use of public resources “to assist a labor organization in collecting dues or service fees from wages of public employees.”

The commission’s Coordinating Committee, which includes State Sen. Bill Coley (R-Liberty Twp.), was scheduled to decide earlier this week which, if any, of the commission’s six subject matter committees will consider Mayer’s amendments. But the discussion was tabled until the May 14 meeting.

“It really is up to the committee chair as to whether there would be a hearing or not,” Hollon said.

If there is a hearing, the amendment could go from that committee to a full commission vote, then to Ohio’s General Assembly and then Ohio voters.

But it’s unlikely it will ever make it that far, said Coley.

“We are accepting any ideas that Ohio citizens have to improve the Ohio constitution,” Coley said. “We’re going to take a long hard look at them (the amendments), but … the problem is the way we’ve structured the constitutional modernization committee is that you have to have a (two-thirds) super majority to pass stuff.

“Seeing as the panel is divided half Republican, half Democrat, some of these very high-charged political issues just aren’t going to find their way into the final commission action.”

The 32-member OCMC is composed of 20 private citizens and 12 members of Ohio General Assembly — six Republicans and six Democrats, three from the Ohio House of Representatives and three from the Ohio Senate, Hollon said. Each committee member serves on two of the six subject matter committees.

Each committee has 11 members. Those with six Democrats and five Republicans have a Republican chairperson, and those with a Republican majority have a Democratic chairperson.

Right-to-work provisions, which prohibit employers or unions from requiring union membership or non-membership as a condition of employment, exist in 25 U.S. states — mostly in the western and southern U.S., but also including Midwestern states Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Republican Gov. John Kasich pledged throughout the 2014 campaign that he had no intention of acting on right-to-work legislation that would limit the power of Ohio labor unions, and he made good on his word. Two separate bills introduced during the latest session would have prohibited requiring workers to join or pay automatic dues to either a public- or private-sector union. They went nowhere.

On the campaign trail, Kasich said management and labor generally work well together in Ohio. And he has maintained that he’s learned the lessons of 2011’s overwhelming voter repeal of Ohio collective bargaining limits.

The Associated Press contributed to this report