In 1958, Ohio’s corporate and business class managed to plow a  right- to- work issue into the November ballot.  That was hardly what Ohio Republican chairman Ray Bliss, a wily strategist who was always thinking ahead, and Sen. John Bricker, fearful of losing his own seat, had in mind for a  Election Day victory lap.

Instead, Bliss saw the measure as political suicide. And he was right.

I was a young reporter on the Columbus Citizen staff when the now-defunct paper could not resist endorsing the measure to stay on the good side of the establishment.  Reality of their folly gripped the management when the final votes were counted.  RTW lost fully 63 pct. of the state’s voters  (the same figure, by the way,  that repealed the restrictive anti-union measure in 2011!)

The white flag hastily went up at the Citizen to cut its losses.  The staff received an urgent (panicky)  notice from the managing editor that  conceded defeat and set a new tone  for the paper’s coverage of organized labor.  He wanted more positive stories about unions – a sort of detente that would prevent fallout of circulation.  At best, it was a journalistic “Hail, Mary”  that did little to convince the public that the paper was not anti-union.  Indeed, even before the vote, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and manufacturers were chiming to the folks that  ”we are not anti-union.”

They hardly changed anybody’s attitude.  The voters not only demolished RTW but also took down Republican Gov. C.William O’Neill, and Bricker too, as well as a bunch of other Republicans.    But let the historical post-mortem be recorded by a somber  John  Mahaney Jr., a pro RTW  guy who later become president of the Ohio  Council of Retail Merchants.

In hindsight, he said the issue “galvanized organized labor like I’ve never seen it galvanized before” .

Thanks for the memory. Reading from the same scriptural bookshelf,   Jase Bolger, Michigan’s Republican House speaker, declared:

“This  is not about management versus labor.  This does not change collective bargaining.  This is not anti-union.”

Supporting RTW is one thing.  Being dishonest about the reason is another.

Back in Ohio:  Gov. Kasich,who campaigned for Senate Bill 5 in 2011, appears to be in a humbler mood If that’s ever possible! ) about seeing the issue back on the ballot in 2013 even though an outfit called Ohioans’ for Workplace Freedom is trying to amass nearly 400,000 signatures to have it re-born next year. It’s  obvious these folks were somewhere  in the Alps in 2011 and didn’t see the Ohio vote as a defining moment.

P.S. If you haven’t already  guessed , I was a long-time member of the American Newspaper Guild.  In my earlier days at the Beacon Journal, the paper had an open shop, which meant that  the reporter was free to decide whether he or she would join the Guild.  The trouble was, the  staffers who didn’t join, either because they didn’t want to pay dues or because it gave them a friendlier moment with the brass, also received the benefits won by the Guild. That later changed to a closed shop.   RTW didn’t seem fair then, doesn’t seem fair now –  or ever.

Evangelize!
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  • lucybeckettmartinez

    I voted for the first time in 1956, having just turned 21. My father was a republican state senator, who was up for re-election. There was a RTW measure on the ballot, which contributed to his defeat. Was it on the ballot again, in 1958, or is there an error in this account?

  • John W.

    Thanks for the interesting history lesson. I didn’t know about the previous anti-union legislation.

    Kasich’s attempt to backdoor a “right to work” bill after the SB5 defeat is cynical at best. His contempt for the will of the people is palpable.

  • http://plunderbund.com Joseph

    From David Hess:

    Sadly, until the gerrymandered state legislative districts are redrawn to deny “safe” seats for the current incumbents, Ohio will remain as vulnerable as Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and other GOP-controlled states to the misnamed “Right to Work” lobbies. Closed shops do not prevent anyone from exercising their right to work. They simply ensure that the benefits negotiated in collective bargaining are spread equitably among the workers who pay their fair share of dues to the collective bargaining units. In any case, the primary aim of RTW advocates is not to ensure any worker’s economic options. Rather, it is intended to weaken the bargaining strength of labor unions vs. management, as well as dilute the political clout of progressive unions in elections.

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