Ohio Senate President Keith Faber struck a blow to members of his own party Wednesday, saying there is not enough GOP support behind legislation to make Ohio the 25th “right-to-work” state.
After meeting with fellow Republicans Gov. John Kasich and House Speaker Bill Batchelder, Faber said pending GOP-led legislation that would end mandatory union membership or dues payments does not have the support of the General Assembly.
“We have an ambitious agenda focused on job creation and economic recovery, and right-to-work legislation is not on that list,” Faber said in statement. “The only purpose this discussion serves right now is to generate a bunch of breathless fundraising appeals from the Ohio Democratic Party.”
Faber’s strong comments came hours after Republican representatives Ron Maag of Lebanon and Kristina Roegner of Hudson introduced three bills that would end requirements that employees pay dues or fees to unions as a condition of employment.
Democrats and union leaders already began ramping up for a repeat of the Senate Bill 5 showdown of 2011, holding a small rally outside the Statehouse and a press conference that felt more like a pep rally, with dozens of union supporters standing behind a dozen House Democrats.
“Folks are ready to fight this fight again if we have to but we’d rather be able to work on a positive agenda, be able to talk about what we need to do to create jobs in Ohio, create a level playing field, create the chance for our kids to have great opportunities and stay in the state of Ohio,” said Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany.
Senate Bill 5 would have put curbs on the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
House GOP spokesman Mike Dittoe told the Dayton Daily News the issue was not one put forward by Batchelder, R-Medina, or the Republican caucus.
But at least 16 GOP representatives signed onto the bill including two in leadership positions — Reps. Jim Buchy of Greenville and John Adams of Sidney. A citizen-led constitutional amendment also is still in the works.
Current state and federal laws allow employees to opt out of union dues, but they must pay a “fair share” fee to cover the costs of collective bargaining, representing employees in grievance cases and other activity directly related to employee benefits. Each of the bills introduced Wednesday would end the requirement to pay fair share fees, which do not go toward political contributions.
Maag said right-to-work would make Ohio more competitive with other states, including neighboring Michigan and Indiana, which enacted right-to-work laws last year. He admitted Ohio currently leads those states in many economic indicators, but he said that doesn’t mean that will always be the case.
“From my perspective, this is not anti-union,” Maag said. “I support unions, I support the individual’s rights. The difference is the individual now has the right whether they want to belong to any organization.”
James Winship, executive director of the Miami Valley AFL-CIO, said right-to-work legislation would produce a similar outcome as Senate Bill 5, which was overwhelmingly rejected by voters in 2011.
Ohio voters also rejected a right-to-work ballot issue in 1958.
“The labor unions are just going to have to stick together,” Winship said. “It’s not so much about unions. It’s about the middle class, let’s be honest.”
Citing union data, Winship argued that the “poorest” states and the states with the highest worker fatality rates are ones that have adopted right-to-work laws.
Winship, who also heads the Dayton-based International Union of Electronic Workers-Communication Workers of America Local 775, said union elections are overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. If workers don’t want union involvement, he said, they’re free to vote against it.
He summed up the goal of right-to-work legislation as “rich people who don’t want regular people to have a voice.”
John Heitmann, a University of Dayton history professor recognized as an authority on the U.S. auto industry, said new auto assembly sites in recent years have been put in Southern states with right-to-work laws long in place.
In January, Nissan said it would move assembly work from Japan to Canton, Miss. Mercedes-Benz said in March it will build a $70 million automotive parts staging facility at an existing plant in Vance, Ala. The plant will have 500 workers. Last month, Toyota said it will build the Lexus ES 350 at its Georgetown, Ky. plant, investing $360 million and creating 750 jobs starting in 2015.
Honda has thrived in Ohio since the late 1970s with more than 13,000 workers, but its workforce is not unionized.
“All you have to do is look at where the new car factories are being set up,” Heitmann said.
He added, however, that while right-to-work laws — or other factors — may open doors to new jobs, those jobs may not offer living wages. “Will they be jobs that pay the kinds of wages that historically we’ve come to expect from manufacturing?” he said.
Kasich, who is up for re-election next year, has said that right-to-work is not a priority of his. But as word of the legislation surfaced this week, Democrats quickly attempted to tie it to Kasich, an indication that another SB 5-like battle could occur if right-to-work became law.
After SB 5 was defeated, Kasich’s approval ratings plummeted.
Right-to-work states (Back to top)
North Carolina, 1947
North Dakota, 1947
South Carolina, 1954
South Dakota, 1946
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures (Back to top)