Legislators in Republican-majority Wisconsin appear poised to debate a right-to-work bill in January. And in Ohio, right to work is bubbling higher on the business agenda in a state where the issue hasn’t been addressed in a few years.
Fully 24 states currently give workers the right to hold jobs without being forced to join a union. The most significant of those states are Michigan and Indiana, both of which adopted right-to-work laws in 2012. There’s broad agreement that this change in status has advanced the economic-development interests of each state by keeping Indiana and Michigan on the prospective lists of site selectors in manufacturing and other disciplines, whereas otherwise they would have been eliminated.
The right-to-work movement also has been encouraged by the fact that voters in those heavily union-influenced states didn’t punish the legislators who pulled the switch. Republicans, who by and large supported right-to-work laws while Democrats opposed them, retained majorities in both houses of the Michigan and Indiana legislatures in November.
This picture also reflects the reality that most Americans support right-to-work principles. While 53 percent of Americans in a recent Gallup poll said they support unions, 71 percent also said they would vote for a right-to-work bill if they had a chance, and 82 percent agreed that “no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will.”
Which brings Wisconsin front-burner. Some influential legislators there are agitating for right-to-work legislation that, they say, would help address one of the major shortcomings of the state’s conservative revival under Republican Gov. Scott Walker: a lack of new-job growth to keep up with the Midwest as a whole.
When Walker took on public-sector unions in Wisconsin a few years ago, he deliberately shied away from also tackling the right-to-work issue. And he’s still tentative about it. But if Republican legislators put a right-to-work bill on Walker’s desk, political handicappers believe he would sign it.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, the right-to-work issue came up during Republican Gov. John Kasich’s successful re-election bid in the fall. Democrats warned that he would try to take Ohio in a right-to-work direction if Kasich was re-elected. His opponent, Democrat Ed FitzGerald, also kept pressing Kasich on the governor’s support for an Ohio bill that passed in 2011 limiting collective bargaining for public employees. The bill subsequently was overturned by 62 percent of Ohio supporters.
Kasich hasn’t indicated that he wants to agitate for a right to work for Ohio. In fact, in interviews before the election, he noted that the state “has a pretty good labor climate” already. But don’t be surprised if his stance changes as his term continues.