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Republican lawmakers push to make Ohio "right to work"

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    Rep. John Becker and Rep. Craig Riedel have introduced a package of proposed constitutional amendments have been introduced to make Ohio the 29th state to enact “right to work.”

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COLUMBUS — More than six years after voters resoundingly rejected similar proposals at the polls, a package of proposed constitutional amendments have been introduced to make Ohio the 29th state to enact “right to work.”

Six measures, all requiring voter approval, would undercut the clout of private and public-sector labor unions by prohibiting collection of so-called “fair share” fees in lieu of dues from workers who refuse to join a union and forbidding union spending of dues or fees on political activity without workers’ consent.

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Rep. John Becker and Rep. Craig Riedel have introduced a package of proposed constitutional amendments have been introduced to make Ohio the 29th state to enact “right to work.”

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RELATED: Ohio voters will have choices in 2018

They would repeal requirements for a prevailing wage, often a higher union-scale wage, on public projects, prohibit governments from specifying union or nonunion labor on public projects, and require votes to recertify workplace bargaining units every year.

Similar legislative efforts have gone nowhere in recent years in the General Assembly following the stinging defeat of Senate Bill 5. Voters forced a repeal of the law, which focused on clipping the power of public-employee labor unions.

Unlike Senate Bill 5, the newest effort would not restrict what can be on the bargaining table in terms of salary and benefits. Instead, it largely targets union finances.

The resolutions are sponsored by state Rep. John Becker (R., Cincinnati), who has pushed similar measures in the past without success, and freshman state Rep. Craig Riedel (R., Defiance). They have been joined by as many as seven of the chamber’s more conservative members as co-sponsors — none from northwest Ohio — on some of the proposals.

“It’s not so much that I’m opposed to unions,” Mr. Riedel said. “I believe strongly that employees ought not to be required to pay fair-share fees if they choose not to join that union. If that individual chooses not to be a part of that union, they’re on their own. They would not get any representation whatsoever by that collective-bargaining agreement.”

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Supporters of the fair-share fee have argued that it prevents non-union members from freeloading on a contract negotiated by a union they didn’t financially support.

Mr. Riedel said each issue could stand on its own should voters pick and choose between them.

Among Ohio’s neighboring states, all but Pennsylvania have enacted right-to-work laws.

This year is a legislative election year, so it’s unlikely lawmakers would want such politically divisive questions on the ballot at the same time they are. A super-majority vote of the House and Senate would be needed by August to put the questions on the Nov. 6 ballot.

If all Republicans in each chamber held together, they would have enough votes to put the measures on the ballot. But whether that would happen is questionable.

Republican Gov. John Kasich has resisted calls to tackle the issue in the wake of Senate Bill 5’s defeat, and an independent petition effort to put a question on the ballot fizzled. It will likely be an issue in this year’s gubernatorial election.

Matt Szollosi, the former Toledo area state representative who now serves as executive director of the Affiliated Construction Trades of Ohio, said he doesn’t see much of an appetite in Columbus to deal with the issue.

“What has been proposed over the holiday recess goes significantly further than did Senate Bill 5, which was soundly defeated by the citizens of the state of Ohio,” he said. “I think the likelihood of success with any of these House joint resolutions is slim to none.”

He was not surprised to see prevailing-wage repeal thrown into the mix this time. Despite calls from private non-union contractors, it was not part of Senate Bill 5 and there has been little movement beyond modifying the dollar thresholds in certain government sectors at which they would kick in.

Critics argue prevailing wage artificially raises public projects’ cost, while supporters defend it as a way of maintaining quality and preventing skilled-labor union shops from being undercut in the bidding process.

“A core group of representatives feel very strongly about the prevailing-wage issue,” Mr. Szollosi said. “They continue to pursue its prohibition, but I don’t see an appetite in the legislature on either side of the aisle for such a nonsensical, ill-contrived initiative.”

Mr. Riedel said he believes enough time has passed since the Senate Bill 5 vote to consider some of the issues again, even if on a piecemeal basis. He said he would consider voters’ word on the subject to be the final say.

“In my mind, it doesn’t get more conservative than northwest Ohio,” he said. “But I’ve learned in my first year in Columbus at the Statehouse that not all of Ohio is like northwest Ohio.… If we were able to get to the ballot, and if the citizens of Ohio said no to all of these, then I would get it…. This is the fairest way to go about it.”

Contact Jim Provance at jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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