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 to get 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.
Forty-six percent of registered voters turned out, setting a 20-year record in terms of voter percentage and an all-time high in total people voting in an off-year general election. 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 to prevent nonunion employees affected by contracts from paying so-called "fair share" fees to union organizations. That part of the overhaul didn't receive as 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.
Republican Gov. John Kasich and GOP leaders in the Legislature had urged voters to keep the collective bargaining law in place, contending that it would help local governments and communities better control their costs. Following Tuesday's election results, they said they would spend time contemplating how best to take the state forward.
With the announcement of the right-to-work amendment effort, the Kasich administration, Senate President Tom Niehaus and House Speaker William Batchelder repeated the need to reflect on the election's outcome.
"Now's not the time to be taking up or considering these types of issues," said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols.
Niehaus said in a statement that lawmakers needed to work to build consensus for what steps to take next.
"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," Niehaus said.
The Ohio Liberty Council, a coalition of more than 60 tea party groups, sees a chance for success based on 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.
The Columbus-based 1851 Center for Constitutional Law and Associated Builders and Contractors of Ohio, which represents nonunion construction firms, have 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.