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Tea party groups seek Ohio 'right-to-work' measure

Days after union law defeat, tea party coalition to push for 'right-to-work' amendment in Ohio By The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) ' Just two days after Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected a state law curbing collective bargaining rights, a tea party coalition said it will push an amendment to the state's constitution that would prevent workers covered by union contracts from being required to join unions or pay dues.

Chris Littleton, the co-founder of the Ohio Liberty Council, told reporters Thursday the group has submitted an initial 1,000 signatures and the proposed wording for its right-to-work amendment to the state's attorney general.

The group needs state officials' approval of the phrasing and signatures before it can start collecting the roughly 386,000 valid signatures needed by July to get the question on 2012 ballots.

If the group fails in its effort to put the question before voters during next year's presidential election, it would continue its push in 2013, Littleton said.

"We're in this for the long haul," he said.

The proposed amendment comes on the heels of Tuesday's election, when more than 61 percent of voters rejected a law that restricted the collective bargaining rights of Ohio's more than 350,000 public workers. Labor groups and opponents of the law poured more than $24 million into the repeal campaign.

The defeat of the Ohio union law marked one of the biggest victories in decades for the labor movement.

Tim Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, said in a statement that the proposed amendment was "an even more broad assault on workers' rights" than the union law, and that the union wouldn't shy away from defending workers' rights once more.

Democrats at the Statehouse immediately criticized the proposal.

"Right-to-work doesn't guarantee rights to the worker," said state Rep. Tracy Heard of Columbus, contending unions have made it easier for women and minorities to earn a better wage.

Littleton said the ballot initiative is about freedom of choice in the workplace, not collective bargaining.

The proposal would amend the state's constitution to say that no law, rule or agreement should require employees to join a union or pay dues, as a condition of their employment.

"This has everything to do with freedom for the worker," Littleton said. "It doesn't address anything else except for the idea that you should be free to choose whether or not you want to participate in a labor organization."

The union law rejected by voters included a provision that would have prohibited the collection of union dues from people who don't wish to join. That part of the overhaul didn't receive much attention during the repeal effort compared with other parts that banned public worker strikes and prevented unions from negotiating health care or pension benefits.

The Ohio Liberty Council, a coalition of more than 60 tea party groups, still sees a chance for success in Tuesday's election results.

Nearly 66 percent of voters supported their amendment to let the state opt out of a provision of the 2009 federal health care overhaul, which mandates that most Americans purchase health care.

"People don't like the idea of compulsory participation ' that I'm mandated or forced to do something against my will," Littleton said.

Associated Builders and Contractors of Ohio, which represents nonunion construction firms, has joined with the Ohio Liberty Council in the effort.

Twenty-two states have right-to-work laws that prohibit union fees from being a condition of employment.

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