Op-ed: A virtual debate on Ohio's 'right to work' bill

Op-ed: A virtual debate on Ohio's 'right to work' bill
Posted at 10:00 AM, Mar 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-06 10:00:28-05

So-called "right to work" legislation is gaining momentum in state legislatures. In early January, Kentucky became the 27th state to pass such a law. It permits employees to work in union-represented shops and receive union-negotiated benefits without paying union dues. Indiana has had a similar law since 2012. A bill is pending in the Ohio General Assembly, co-authored by Rep. John Becker, who writes below.

Scroll down to read a response from a Cincinnati union leader.

Right to work restores workers' rights to decide

John Becker is a Republican who represents the 65th Ohio House district in Clermont County.

It's about freedom.

I authored House Bill 53 to restore the freedom of association to public sector employees. This right to work legislation provides public sector workers the freedom to opt out of union representation and dues. A private sector right to work bill will soon be introduced by one of my colleagues in the Ohio House of Representatives.

The national momentum is in support of right to work. With the recent additions of Kentucky and Missouri, 28 states are right to work. Except for Pennsylvania, Ohio is completely surrounded by right to work states.

Rep. John Becker

The question is no longer if Ohio joins the chorus of right to work states, but when. Ohio is being left behind and this is a likely factor in the decision of Amazon choosing the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport over Wilmington. That was a major blow to a struggling community and the state of Ohio.

As more and more states join the right to work movement, none of them have ever gone back to forced unionism. The union bosses continue to scream, “The sky is falling.” Well, the sky hasn’t fallen in the 28 right to work states. The right to decide is a popular concept with the American workforce.

I understand why the union bosses might oppose this. They perceive it as a threat to their power and the ability to control others. On what grounds, might a rank-and-file member be opposed? Too much freedom? They don’t like choices? They want to be controlled by union bosses? I think not.

Detractors have been trying to tie right to work to the infamous Senate Bill 5 from 2011. These bills are as different as night and day. They attempt to argue that right to work was voted down with Senate Bill 5. The facts are that nothing similar to House Bill 53 has been voted on since 1958.

Senate Bill 5 was about restricting union contracts, reducing benefits, implementing controls on collective bargaining, arbitration, and strikes for public sector employees. (It was motivated by the General Assembly's desire to control costs for the taxpayers.) The campaign opposing the measure was about safety standards, working conditions, and the ability of police and fire to meet the needs of the public.

Conversely, House Bill 53 is simply about eliminating the requirement for public sector employees to join a union, pay union fees, or be fired. Furthermore, it eliminates the requirement for unions to represent employees who are not members or pay union fees. This is the “freeloader” argument and it is abolished in the bill.

Both sides of the right to work argument throw around economic statistics in support of their position. I say, don’t try to convince me. Convince the individual employees. Convince them that union membership or support is a good idea and they will sign on. Or do the unions fear that they must have “conversion by the sword” (forced union membership or fees) because their economic arguments are weak?

Frankly, I have more faith in the unions than they apparently have in themselves. Under the provisions of my right to work proposal, I don’t expect any major changes in union membership rolls. Allowing workers to have choices will eliminate resentment and potentially make unions stronger because those who remain will be the ones who are committed to their cause.

Again, this is about freedom. Right to work doesn’t take anything away from any workers or collective bargaining rights. House Bill 53 simply restores a worker’s right to decide whether or not to join or support the union.


Right to work is wrong for working people

Julie Sellers is president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers.

The business lobby is back on its favorite hobby horse, pushing so-called “right to work” legislation in Columbus. But before Ohioans consider it, we should be aware of what right to work’s really about.

Right-to-work is has nothing to do with guaranteeing employment, or even the decision to join a union (compulsory unionism was outlawed in 1947). In truth, it’s about helping CEOs drive down wages and deny working people a voice.

Workers join unions because they know the benefits a union contract brings – higher wages and benefits that raise the bar for everyone as they cascade through the economy. Right to work will reduce all Ohioans’ standard of living, not just those in a union.

Julie Sellers

The proof is in the paycheck – all workers, not just union members, earn $1,558 less per year in right to work states. The workplace death rate is 44 percent higher. And right to work prevents firefighters, nurses and teachers from effectively bargaining for resources, safe nurse-patient ratios and class sizes.

The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers represents 2,700 school employees. At the bargaining table, we’ve managed to cap class sizes at a level where every child gets the attention they deserve. Right to work would reverse those gains and make unwieldy classrooms the norm. 

In an op-ed, business consultant Doug Moormann claimed right-to-work would attract business to Ohio. But it turns out that reducing wages and benefits hurts the overall economy as much as workers. In 2011, New Hampshire rejected right to work, but a year later Indiana passed an identical bill. Five years on, the jury is in – the New Hampshire economy is stronger and its residents better off.

Even the extremist National Right to Work Committee – the corporate-funded group behind the legislation – has admitted that there’s no economic benefit to these laws. If that’s the case, what’s the real goal? The truth is that unions are the only countervailing force to wealthy CEOs. Billionaires want the playing field – and the Statehouse – all to themselves.

In Ohio, we’ve been here before. In 2011, Gov. Kasich pushed through similar legislation. But the people fought back, and the bill was rejected, 62 percent to 38 percent, through a citizen’s veto.

Issue 2 is dead and buried, but lawmakers don’t seem to have learned the lesson – Ohioans will not stand for legislation that attacks working people. Any attempt to advance House Bill 53 will be met with fierce resistance from the middle class Ohioans who keep our state strong.

Instead of kowtowing to CEOs, politicians should be focusing on real priorities like good jobs and investing in infrastructure and education. That’s how to build real Buckeye wealth, without padding the bank accounts of billionaires.

Right to work laws will always fail in Ohio because we value our right to live, work and raise a family in economic security. Politicians should realize that right to work legislation is wrong for all Ohioans.   

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