Right-to-work opponents speak out at Statehouse hearing

The Columbus Dispatch – June 05, 2013

Even though top Republicans have said a package of right-to-work bills doesn’t have support, opponents appeared in droves yesterday at the Statehouse, sporting local union-chapter T-shirts, pins and stickers.

One bill would authorize a ballot question on whether to enshrine language in the state constitution making it illegal to require union membership as a condition of employment; the other is a standard bill, and would apply only to private-sector employees.

The opponents packed the committee room and overflow room as sponsors Rep. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, and Rep. Ron Maag, R-Lebanon, citied several polls showing most Ohioans support such laws. One was a Saperstein Associates poll done in March for The Dispatch, in which 65 percent of respondents supported right-to-work.

But Gov. John Kasich has repeatedly said right-to-work isn’t on his agenda, and Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, said last month he did not think the bills have enough support to pass. For labor advocates, the possibility of right-to-work is even more threatening than in 2011, when voters repealed a law that considerably restricted collective bargaining for public employees.

Since then, both Michigan and Indiana have passed right-to-work laws. The Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature fast-tracked its version in December, and it became law in a matter of hours.

The proximity has made the issue palpable for both sides.

“Right-to-work is right on our borders now,” Roegner said. “This is something we at least thought we should be engaging in the discussion of.”

In an email, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern cited Michigan, where he said the law was passed “in the dead of night.”

“If we are not vigilant, the same thing could happen here,” he wrote.

At the moment, that chance is looking slim. After the hearing, Roegner said she wasn’t sure if the bill would get a second hearing, but wanted to raise the issue out of principle.

Opponents say right-to-work laws would create a so-called “free-rider effect” allowing employees to reap benefits negotiated by union leaders without having to pay dues. That, they say, could collapse the entire system.

“It really does hurt your bottom line as a middle-class person living in the state,” said Daria DeNoia, a Columbus City Schools teacher and union member who attended the hearing.

For right-to-work supporters, freedom to choose is the bottom line. And they’re ready to bet voters will agree.

“There’s nothing more fair than that,” Maag said in his testimony.