Effort underway to put ‘right-to-work’ issue on Ohio’s 2020 ballot

Two Republican state lawmakers are pushing six constitutional amendments to weaken union power in Ohio.

The move comes seven years after Ohio voters rejected a law that would have cut collective bargaining for public employees.

“This not an affront to unions. This is not an affront to collective bargaining. This is all about workers’ rights and workers’ freedom to be able to choose and decide whether they want to be a part of a union, not have to worry about paying fair share fees,” said state Rep. Craig Riedel, R-Defiance, at a press conference with state Rep. John Becker, R-Union Twp.

Related: ‘Right-to-work’ push under way in Ohio

The six resolutions, which Becker and Riedel want to go on the November 2020 ballot, call for:

— Prohibit union membership as a condition of employment in the private and public sectors, which is often called “Right-to-Work”;

— Bar automatic dues collection via public employee paychecks;

— Prohibit governments from requiring contractors to pay prevailing wages on public construction projects. Prevailing wages are based on hourly pay and benefits in the area of the project;

— Prohibit governments from using project labor agreements, which are pre-hire bargaining agreements with unions on construction projects;

— Require annual votes on union representation for public employees.

To put the General Assembly initiated constitutional amendments on the statewide ballot requires a three-fifths majority vote in both the House and Senate. It does not require governor action.

Related: John Becker says Obama flips the bird to God

It is unclear whether Republicans who control the Ohio General Assembly want to take on what could be a battle reminiscent of Senate Bill 5, anti-union legislation that triggered massive protests at the Statehouse and a statewide referendum in which voters rejected the law 62 percent to 38 percent in 2011.

Senate Bill 5, signed by Gov. John Kasich in May 2011, would have watered down collective bargaining rights for more than 715,000 teachers, firefighters, cops and other public employees.

“In states where they’ve passed these anti-worker proposals, these are the facts: workers earn less and they are maimed and killed on the job at alarmingly higher rates because they have lost their rights to speak out,” said Dennis Willard, spokesman for We Are Ohio, a coalition that led the charge against Senate Bill 5. “Reps. Riedel and Becker are carrying water for out-of-state interests like the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council. There are no workers lining up behind these dangerous, divisive and disastrous ideas for Ohioans. Right to Work is wrong for Ohio. Don’t trust it.”

Ohio House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, said in a written statement: “Instead of restrictions to make working people poorer and less safe on the job, we should prioritize commonsense ideas that grow our economy and create good-paying jobs that give working families the opportunity to get ahead.”

Union membership in Ohio and across the country has been on a steady decline for decades, according to data compiled by Barry Hirsch, David Macpherson and Wayne Vroman. In Ohio, the percentage of workers in unions was 12.6 percent in 2017, down from 19 percent in 1997 and 31.1 percent in 1977, the researchers found.

Currently, 28 states have “right-to-work” laws where employees have the choice on whether to join a union, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Kentucky and Missouri are the latest states, adoption such laws in 2017.

The Buckeye Institute, a conservative leaning free-market think tank based in Columbus, took out billboards and other ads in Columbus, advocating that government workers should be allowed to vote on which union represents them. “Giving public employees a regular vote in choosing the union that represents them will ensure unions are accountable to the workers they serve and will restore democracy and fairness to the system,” Buckeye Institute President Robert Alt said in a written statement.

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