COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - A group of conservative activists said on Thursday they would push for a constitutional amendment to make Ohio a “right to work” state even after residents voted overwhelmingly to block a new law that had limited collective bargaining for public sector workers.
Union leaders and Democrats vowed to fight the effort by the group of Tea Party activists, who would need to amass 386,000 signatures to put the proposed state constitutional amendment before voters in 2012 or 2013.
Workers would not be required to pay union dues if such an amendment were approved by voters in Ohio, a working class state with a high percentage of union workers and a potential swing state in the 2012 presidential election.
About 61 percent of voters in Tuesday’s election voted with labor to block the law that limited collective bargaining rights of public workers in a major victory for organized labor and sound defeat for Republicans who backed the measure.
The drive is sponsored by activists who backed a state constitutional amendment approved on Tuesday by a broad margin that would exempt Ohio residents from federal mandates under the healthcare reforms championed by President Barack Obama.
“Freedom in the workplace has been long overdue,” said Bryan Williams, director of government affairs for the Ohio Association of Building Contractors.
Maurice Thompson, an attorney representing the coalition, said he had submitted petition language and preliminary signatures to the Ohio Secretary of State to start the process for putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said the vote on Tuesday proved “these kinds of direct offenses on working families will be rejected.”
Democratic State Senator Nina Turner said backers of the “right to work” proposal would have a “bigger battle on their hands” than they did with the bill blocked on Tuesday given the thousands of Ohioans who work in manufacturing plants.
Some Ohio Republican legislative leaders were not quick to embrace another fight with labor unions.
“We just finished a very divisive and contentious election, and Ohioans made it clear they want us to be more deliberate in our approach to major reform,” Senate President Tom Niehaus said. “We need to work to build consensus on the direction we take from here.”
Editing by David Bailey and Peter Bohan