Unions and conservatives eye the next labor battleground

Whether right-to-work legislation is pushed next in Ohio or elsewhere, the battle will be fierce

Topics: Ohio, Michigan, Right-to-work, Koch Brothers, Labor Rights, Unions, union busting,

The passing in Michigan of right-to-work legislation delivered a severe blow this week to the labor movement. Now as union activists and their supporters strategize on how to push back against the national, Koch-backed onslaught against labor rights, right-to-work advocates seek their next battleground.

According to a report by Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman at Politico, the union counteroffensive is setting its sights on fighting conservative state leaders in next year’s gubernatorial elections, particularly in the Midwest. Via Politico:

The AFL-CIO has already built up sizable campaign operations in Pennsylvania, Florida, Nevada and Wisconsin – the site of a titanic 2012 gubernatorial recall fight – in addition to Ohio and Michigan, union officials said. The labor giant deployed new staff to those states about a year ago as part of what AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka has called the “permanent infrastructure” of national unions.

… Labor leaders have vowed to make Snyder regret signing the “right to work” law he approved this week. Beyond Michigan, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett have appeared vulnerable in polling.

Meanwhile, conservative groups behind the union-busting pushes in 24 states, now including Michigan, are eying the next states in which to push similar legislation. “But the search for the next Michigan could be difficult,” noted the Washington Post, as angered labor rights defenders are uniting and vowing to fight harder. The Post looked to state leaders to get a sense of where right-to-work might go next:



On Wednesday, a survey of state leaders found that a law like Michigan’s would still face significant obstacles in many places.

In some cases, the roadblock is a Democratic governor. Conservatives have hopes for a right-to-work law in Montana, but Gov.-elect Steve Bullock (D) said he would oppose one: “I don’t think that’s what we need to build our economy.”

The situation is similar in New Hampshire. “I would veto it if it came to my desk,” Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan (D) said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. In both Kentucky and Missouri, Democratic governors also have spoken against such laws.

In Maine, Paul LePage (R) has said that he supports right-to-work legislation but is likely to run into opposition in the soon-to-be-Democratic state legislature.

…Even GOP-controlled states were leery on Wednesday.

“If I could wave a magic wand, I would do it tomorrow. But in terms of trying to get it through our legislative process, it is a very heavy lift,” said David Patti, president of the Pennsylvania Business Council. Would a right-to-work bill pass there? “No,” Patti said flatly.

In Ohio, a state with a Republican governor and Republican legislature, citizen activists have reached the same conclusion. An effort is underway to go around the state’s politicians and put a right-to-work measure on the ballot next year.

A number of commentators are focusing on Ohio as the next battleground. Conservative groups are arguing that Ohio must follow its Rust Belt neighbors and enact the legislation or lose jobs. “Indiana has done this. Michigan will. What choice will Ohio have?” Tea Party activist Chris Littleton said, according to the Cincinnati Inquirer. However, Ohio Gov. John Kasich — a Republican — took a beating in 2011 when he signed a bill to limit collective-bargaining rights of public employees. A galvanized union effort built up opposition to the bill and saw it repealed. However, with both Indiana and Michigan passing right-to-work bills this year, union-busting in Ohio might seem more feasible this time round.

What is clear is that wherever the next field, the battle will be fiercer than ever.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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