By JULIE CARR SMYTH
Two bills intended to strip Ohio unions of the ability to compel membership or to automatically collect money from members faced an uncertain fate — and forceful labor pushback — as they were introduced at the Ohio Statehouse on Wednesday.
Neither Gov. John Kasich nor the leaders of the GOP majorities in the state House and Senate have endorsed the so-called right-to-work proposals sponsored by state Reps. Kristina Roegner and Ron Maag, their fellow Republicans.
The measures would prohibit any requirements that employees join or pay dues to any employee organization. They also establish as state policy “that each employee must be fully free to decide whether to associate, organize, designate a representative, or join or assist an employee organization.”
“By introducing these two bills, we’re putting forward a proposal that we believe will make Ohio a freer and more prosperous place to work,” Roegner said.
Roegner’s bill would apply to private-sector unions, while Maag’s would apply to public-sector unions — the same entities targeted in a sweeping collective bargaining overhaul rejected by more than 60 percent of Ohio voters in 2011.
House Democrats joined labor leaders in quickly challenging the proposals, saying they are built on myths about existing labor law and intended to undercut working people in favor of corporations.
Democratic state Rep. Tracy Heard said Ohio workers already have the ability to opt out of union membership and those who do are not required to pay dues.
Unions may collect what’s called a “fair share fee” to cover costs directly associated with collective bargaining, which can include the settlement of grievances, pursuit of workplace safety compliance, and various legal actions intended to benefit all workers included in the bargaining unit.
“America’s right-to-work states are the poorest, most unhealthy and undereducated states in the union. That is a fact,” said Joe Rugola, director of the 35,000-member Ohio Association of Public School Employees.
He said “right-wing extremist legislators” and corporate interests motivated by “a godless greed” were aligned to unravel the benefits and security unions bring.
“Right-to-work attacks the heart and foundation of that notion and, because of that, it’s our intention with every fiber of our being to make war on those who want to make war on the American middle-class,” he said.
Maag said he doesn’t view the bills as either anti-worker or anti-union.
“We believe that unions have the right, and sometimes even the responsibility to organize. The purpose of unions is to protect equality,” he said. “However, workplace freedom is also about fairness. Strong-arming workers into joining a union is not fair. Getting or keeping a job based on union affiliation is not fair. Workers who contribute to candidates they do not support certainly is not fair.”
Tim Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, said the attacks were erroneous — union workers may receive back dues spent for political purposes they object to — and the bills’ sponsors should not purport to be defending unionized workers’ rights.
“Let’s be clear, this isn’t being brought forward by union workers,” he said.
Twenty-four states, including neighboring Indiana and Michigan, have such right-to-work provisions in place.