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Crowds Gather At Ohio Statehouse Hearing For "Right To Work" Bill

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Karen Kasler
/
Ohio Public Radio
Union members pack the hearing room and other overflow rooms in the Ohio Statehouse

The crowd that gathered in the committee hearing room, the overflow room and Statehouse hallways was reminiscent of Senate Bill 5, the law aimed at public sector unions. Ohio voters overturned it back in 2011.  The bill Republican Representative Tom Brinkman is sponsoring would prohibit requiring employees of private companies pay union dues. Brinkman said the so-called "Right to Work" legislation is needed because the Buckeye State is losing private sector jobs to other states that have it.

 

“Michigan, that instituted Right to Work about three years ago, has had larger private sector job growth than Ohio has and this is all good for working families because that gives them more opportunity to get jobs.”

 

Brinkman said it’s not only good for job development in Ohio. He also contends workers in Right to Work states earn higher wages. But that's something opponents dispute. Brinkman also said passage of Right to Work would make unions more accountable to their members.

 

“Maybe an analogy would be a community that was forced to join the YMCA. You are forced to pay your dues. The YMCA can give you lousy towel service and not repave the parking lot and you are still forced to give them your money. When you have competition and you have that choice to join or not join, all of a sudden.they have to compete for those dues.”

 

Brinkman said many union members get what he calls, “shoddy service”. He said there’s no reason Ohioans who do not want to join unions should be required to pay the fair share amount they currently do under Ohio law. But Democratic State Representative Michele LePore-Hagan told Brinkman there’s a big difference between paying dues to the YMCA and a union.

 

“If you are a member of the Y or the Chamber of Commerce, you receive goods from that organization. But if you want to be a member and say, “I don’t want to pay my membership fee anymore but you have to keep giving me free access, free parking, let me go to the pool, whatever it is”, that is what you are asking the unions to do.”

 

LePore-Hagan said it is unfair to allow non-union employees to benefit from the union-negotiated wages, benefits and working conditions without having to pay something to the unions in exchange for bargaining for those. Gov. John Kasich, who signed Senate Bill 5 five years ago, has said Right to Work is not a priority item for him right now. Democratic State Representative Alicia Reece noted that and asked why, given that fact, Brinkman is bringing it up now.

 

“So my question to you is, is this bill worth dividing the state when we have already gone to the ballot and people came out in record numbers and said that the legislature was wrong?” asked Reed to applause from union members.

 

After the hearing, Spencer Terrell, local union president for United Steelworkers local 4708 in Columbus promised to fight Brinkman’s bill, saying “It makes a less safe workplace, it makes us poorer.”

 

It’s important to note this bill would only affect private employees at private companies – not public workers like SB5 did. Still, there were plenty of public employees and union representatives on hand to voice their opposition.  Terry Holland, an OSCEA member who works in one of the state’s prison facilities, said public unions will fight this bill too, “We know that when they get their foot in the door, we are next again.”

 

This hearing was the first for this plan. And it’s not clear whether it will get additional hearings soon. But as Brinkman pointed out, other governors who said Right to Work wasn’t on their agenda ended up signing the legislation into law when their legislatures passed it. So he said he plans on continuing the push to pass this bill, regardless of whether Kasich and other legislative leaders are receptive to it right now.