Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Don’t Hold Your Breath for a 23rd Right to Work State

After the successes of New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker in tempering the power of public sector unions, the failure of Senate Bill 5 in Ohio was a difficult loss. But the desire to curb Big Labor’s power is not completely lost; Ohio and Indiana are proving otherwise – even if the odds are against them.

Despite the recent defeat of Ohio Senate Bill 5, Ohioans have set their sights on ending forced union membership. “Ultimately, freedom to associate also means freedom not to associate,” said Maurice Thompson of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law to The New American. Thompson heads the organization, which is one of several attempting to pass a right to work law in Ohio. If the newly proposed “Workplace Freedom Amendment” is approved by Ohio voters in November 2012, then the state will become the 23rd state to protect the freedom of choice for its employees – unless Indiana beats them to it.

Indiana leaders also have their eye on the right to work prize. In the 2011 session, right to work legislation was tabled after House Democrats fled the state forcing the Indiana House to shut down. Passing such legislation looks more promising this time around, especially since Governor Mitch Daniels is reportedly willing to put his weight behind the bill. Indiana Republicans control both the House and the Senate, so the votes are likely there. That leaves Indiana Democrats with only the extreme option of once again fleeing the state.

Yet despite the somewhat favorable political environment, observers doubt that either Ohio or Indiana will become the 23rd right to work state. Right to work legislation hasn’t been successfully passed since the 1980’s, with the exception of Oklahoma in 2001. The reason? Labor unions will fight these efforts tooth and nail. It is estimated that Unions spent up to $50 million to successfully fight against SB5 in Ohio.

An excellent example of just how difficult it is to pass this kind of legislation can be seen in Colorado. In the fall of 2008, Colorado sought to pass right to work legislation, Amendment 47. In response, unions launched four “poison pill” measures, Amendments 53, 55, 56, and 57. These initiatives would have been “devastating to Colorado’s economy,” said Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce president Joe Blake to the Colorado Statesman.

The poison pill measures were more or less introduced as union bargaining chips in order to kill Amendment 47 by effectively blackmailing businesses – and it worked. Members of the business community struck a deal and pledged $3 million to defeat Amendment 47 in exchange for the removal of the offending measures. Amendment 47 did not pass, and Colorado was left with its hybrid right to work law, which allows employees by a vote of 75 percent or more, to eliminate right to work privileges and become a closed shop.

Union leaders are so desperate to retain their members that they are willing to go to almost any length to make sure right to work legislation is out of play. Right to work legislation is a great way to expand employee rights, but history suggests you shouldn’t hold your breath for it to pass in either Ohio or Indiana.

Categories: Center for Union Facts