Legislation that would allow Ohio workers to opt out of paying union dues have been introduced in the Ohio legislature. And as Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, the bills are already drawing protests.
Three bills have been introduced in the Ohio House. One would allow private sector workers to opt out of paying union dues. Another would allow public sector workers to do the same. And another proposal would give lawmakers the chance to put the issue on the ballot, so Ohio voters could decide whether workers should have to pay union dues.
The Republican sponsors of the measures are calling them "workplace freedom legislation." They say it would be up to Ohio lawmakers to decide which, if any, of the bills they pass.
Michigan and Indiana have already adopted similar laws, commonly known as "right to work" laws. Republican Rep. Kristina Roegner says Ohio better do the same too in order to stay competitive.
ROEGNER: "If you are a CEO and you are looking at two states and the tax climate and regulatory environment -- say it all equals out. And those two states are a tie. But one has workplace freedom and the other is a (compulsory) union state, where are you going to bring those jobs?"
Two years ago, Republican legislators passed a law slashing the bargaining clout of public employee unions. Voters overwhelmingly repealed the law in a referendum.
But Roegner says these new bills are not like the old one because the new ones only speak to paying union dues.
Republican Rep. Ron Maag, another sponsor of these bills, says there are studies that show private sector employment in Midwest states with these kinds of laws grew by 6.8 percent between 2001 and 2011 -- but dropped in Midwest states without these laws, including more than two percent in Ohio. And he says employees in so called workplace freedom states make more money.
MAAG: "I cannot see the controversy here. I can see where some people might set a narrative that is a little different but again, the workers right to choose -- how can anybody say anything bad about that?"
About 50 union members did say plenty of bad things about that. They rallied at the Statehouse even before the bills were introduced. Tim Burga is the head of Ohio’s largest labor union coalition, the AFL-CIO.
BURGA: "This is bad for Ohio. It’s going to make us less free, less safe and worse off."
Burga says the Republicans who are pushing this idea don’t have their facts straight.
BURGA: "These are multinational corporations and extremists that are pushing this. And when’s the last time a multinational corporation sought legislation or sought to put something on the ballot to help workers in...middle class families? So this is all about creating greater control for multinational corporations and taking away the rights from workers. It’s going to take away the rights of whistleblowers at the workplace. It’s going to drive down median family income. States with so-called right-to-work earn $6,400 less than free-bargaining states like Ohio. Workplace death rates are 36 percent higher in so-called right-to-work states."
Burga says his union group and others are ready to fight this legislation head on….just like they did two years ago. And Democrats, like Senator Nina Turner, have already joined unions in the fight against these newly proposed bills.
TURNER: "It’s ridiculous, Jo, but it is going to bring everybody together. They are attacking the private sector on one hand, the public sector on the other. And it’s just going to bring the happy family together again."
Whether they think because they rigged the gerrymandering process that they are so safe that they can do anything to the citizens of the state of Ohio.
The fight over these bills comes at a time when next year’s Gubernatorial campaign is just starting. Already, Ed FitzGerald, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, is making it clear he’s against the bills.
Republican Gov. John Kasich, a supporter of the labor law that voters repealed two years ago, has yet to weigh in on these new bills. Recently, he’s dodged questions about whether he supports these kinds of proposals, whether they are OKed by legislators or by voters.