By Marc Kovac
The Republican sponsors of three measures aimed at banning mandatory union membership and dues payments had their first committee hearing.
Reps. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, and Ron Maag, R-Lebanon, used their joint appearance Tuesday before the Manufacturing and Workforce Development Committee to tout the potential economic benefits of right-to-work legislation.
And Democrats on the panel used the hearing to warn of the potential consequences of such law changes.
Neither side appeared to sway the other.
Roegner and Maag introduced separate bills last month, one focused on private-sector employees and one focused on their public-sector counterparts.
The two also have offered a proposed constitutional amendment on the issue to be placed before voters. It’s separate from another amendment being pursued by tea-party and related groups, which are gathering petition signatures but likely will not have enough names to qualify for the fall ballot.
The two GOP lawmakers repeated what they and other proponents have said about right-to-work laws — that such changes would make the state more competitive and attractive to businesses and help Ohio keep pace with two dozen other states, including bordering Indiana and Michigan, that have comparable laws already in place.
“Right-to-work is on our doorstep,” Roegner said. “That fact, if for no other reason, should compel us to at least engage in a dialogue whether this is something our state wishes to pursue or continue to ignore.”
She added, “Every employee should have the right to choose [for] themselves whether to join a union or not. Freedom is a fundamental American principle, and there should be no barriers to personal freedom in this state.”
But opponents continued to echo their concerns, namely that right-to-work laws would hurt organized labor and, ultimately, all working Ohioans.
Rep. Tom Letson of Warren, D-64th, said workers already are protected under state law from being forced to join a union, though those who opt out still have to make fair-share payments.
“If you are taking advantage of the fact that there is a union contract that grants, let’s say, pension benefits, health-care benefits, administration of a grievance process, step raises and other things that the entire workforce is granted ... you are required to pay a small amount for the maintenance of those benefits [that have] accrued to you while not having to A, belong to a union, or B, pay union dues,” Letson said.
Jaladah Aslam of Youngstown, staff representative at American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Ohio Council 8, on hand for Tuesday’s hearing, said the right-to-work bills are “absolutely wrong for all working Ohioans, not just unions.”
She added, “We are responsible for negotiating for benefits for all of those employees, whether they pay dues or not. Currently, people have the right to opt out. Now they have to pay a fair-share fee or closed-shop fee ... but they do not have to be members, active members, of the union.”
Union members packed the hearing room and were warned by committee chairman state Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, against outbursts that encouraged or intimidated those on either side of the debate.