COLUMBUS — Ohio’s latest battle over workers’ rights lasted about 36 hours.
A day after word leaked out that two bills and a proposed constitutional amendment were about to be introduced to make Ohio the 25th “right-to-work” state, Senate President Keith Faber (R., Celina) shot down the legislation’s chances in his chamber.
“We have an ambitious agenda focused on job creation and economic recovery, and right-to-work legislation is not on that list,” Mr. Faber said. “After discussions with other leaders and my caucus, I don’t believe there is current support for this issue in the General Assembly.
“The only purpose this discussion serves right now is to generate a bunch of breathless fund-raising appeals from the Ohio Democratic Party.”
The bills would prohibit employees who refuse to join a workplace bargaining unit from being forced to pay fees in lieu of union dues. Their backers took issue with comparisons with the contentious fight over Senate Bill 5 that ended in an embarrassing defeat for Republicans in 2011.
“Senate Bill 5 was about collective bargaining and putting sort of guardrails around collective bargaining … ,” Rep. Kristina Roegner (R., Hudson) said. “This is quite the opposite of that. This is saying, ‘Workers, you have the freedom to join a union, to pay to be represented by them, or not.’ ”
The fight over Senate Bill 5 in 2011 filled the Statehouse and its lawn with protesters and placed Ohio in the national spotlight right up to the point when voters soundly rejected the law at the ballot box that November.
The “fair-share fee” issue was one of numerous provisions that had been tacked onto Senate Bill 5 and ultimately never went into effect.
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Tom Enright, a Walbridge construction electrician and treasurer of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 8 in Toledo, was among about 50 protesters chanting “O-H-I-O, right-to-work has got to go!” outside the Statehouse on Wednesday.
“It takes away your rights as a union member. There’s no freedom here,’’ Mr. Enright said. “Right now if someone doesn’t want to pay union dues, they might have that right. They can pay for the services they use from that union.
“All right-to-work says is the union has got to represent you, and you don’t have to pay anything. They’re getting something for free. That’s not right, and it’s not fair to everyone else.”
Gov. John Kasich’s dismal poll numbers immediately after Senate Bill 5’s rebuke at the polls have since recovered, so Democrats have been eager to tie him to what they characterize as a new round of anti-worker legislation going into his 2014 re-election campaign.
In a fund-raising email, Ed FitzGerald, Cuyahoga County executive and the only announced Democratic candidate for governor next year, characterized the lawmakers behind the bills as “Governor Kasich’s Statehouse friends.”
Mr. Kasich has not embraced either proposal and has attempted to distance himself from the issue in general, even as neighboring Michigan and Indiana became right-to-work states and a separate petition effort was launched in Ohio to put the question directly to voters.
Ms. Roegner stressed that the new proposals did not come from the governor’s office. The two bills would have required the governor’s signature to become law. The joint resolution putting the question on the ballot would not.
Both sides cite statistics while supporting their arguments. Opponents claim that right-to-work states have seen wages decline, while supporters argue that new and expanding industries prefer “workplace freedom” states.
In recent years, however, Ohio’s economy has generally recovered at a faster pace than the nation as a whole. Ms. Roegner and co-sponsor Rep. Ron Maag (R., Lebanon), however, argued that Ohio would probably have fared better as a workplace freedom state.
“Another thing we need to look at is our neighbor to the north and our neighbor to the west that have now both become right-to-work states,” Mr. Maag said. “Over time, I’m sure, if we look the data, that they will be taking jobs from Ohio.
“We’re doing a great job now, but we’re going to continue to make Ohio the place where workers and employers want to be.”
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.