December 13, 2012

Right to work in Ohio: Now it’s Kasich’s move

Filed under: Economy,Ohio Economy,Ohio Politics,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 3:55 pm

Right to work’s time has come.

This column went up with some editing at Watchdog.org earlier this afternoon.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has put John Kasich, Ohio’s chief executive, on the spot by changing his mind about right-to-work legislation and signing it into law.

On Tuesday, in a move which just a few weeks ago seemed less likely than baseball’s Chicago Cubs winning the World Series again — something they haven’t done in over 100 years — the Wolverine State enacted a right-to-work law in the nation’s fifth-most heavily unionized state. As explained by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, this means Michigan workers cannot “be compelled, as a condition of employment, to join or not to join, nor to pay dues to a labor union.”

The move represents an about-face for Snyder, who had publicly resisted backing right to work when he campaigned for governor and during his first almost two years in office. As explained by Tom Walsh at the Detroit Free Press, Snyder felt forced to change his mind for two reasons:

Frustration with labor as an impediment rather than a partner in fixing Michigan.

And frustration with himself for his naïveté in not realizing it earlier.

Walsh went on to describe how organized labor has hamstrung efforts to rescue insolvent cities and school districts while stonewalling attempts at saving nearly bankrupt Detroit, which as of early this year had 65 people working full-time just handling payroll for its police department.

In a word, the state, already in peril after eight years of fiscal irresponsibility and drift under previous governor Jennifer Granholm, was rapidly approaching the point of becoming ungovernable, almost entirely because of organized labor’s intransigence. Right to work, though not the entire answer by a long shot, will go a long way towards preventing that by creating an environment for greater employment growth in a state where the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is still over 9 percent.

Back in Ohio, Kasich must deal with the fact that the neighboring Indiana and now Michigan have now upped the ante this year in the contest for jobs, growth, and improved standards of living by enacting right to work — and by the fact that he has been publicly unreceptive to a related grass-roots ballot initiative. In February, he called it a “massive change” which would require “a couple years explaining to people what it even means and why it’s important to them.” The reluctance, while somewhat understandable, is still indefensible.

Despite a strong record of economic improvement in Ohio during his two years as governor and significant improvement in his approval rating, Kasich is still smarting from the November 2011 defeat of Issue 2, also known as SB5. In retrospect, it’s clear that Kasich and the legislature, in enacting a grab bag of public-sector reforms all at once, tried to accomplish too much. As a result, most Ohioans who are generally sympathetic to reform were able, thanks to the help of millions of Big Labor dollars and a disjointed campaign by the issue’s supporters, to find something they didn’t like in the law.

But as Ohio’s voters were rejecting Issue 2, they overwhelmingly passed the Ohio Healthcare Freedom Amendment, which added roughly 120 words to the state’s constitution prohibiting the enforcement of any federal or state laws requiring citizens to purchase health insurance. Why? Because it was easy to understand and is consistent with the freedom-loving instincts of most of the state’s residents.

So is right to work. Michigan’s new law takes up fewer than three pages. The constitutional amendment language submitted by Ohioans for Workplace Freedom, which has been certified as “fair and truthful” by Attorney General Mike DeWine, is less than one page, and the related ballot language the group hopes to get onto the November 2013 ballot is roughly 180 words.

Kasich, whose administration has been extremely good at everyday blocking and tackling, needs to stop licking his wounds and focus harder on Ohio’s long-term future, either by getting behind the right-to-work initiative effort or persuading the legislature to enact its own law. Otherwise, in a few years, the state he claims to love, which already has the most bloated public sector in the U.S. with among its most militant government unions, may itself become ungovernable despite his best efforts.

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