Workers assemble a truck on the assembly line at Navistar. Bill Lackey/Staff

Springfield UAW raises concerns about proposed Right-to-Work bill

State lawmaker argues the legislation is needed to make Ohio more competitive with surrounding states for manufacturing jobs.

The UAW Local 402 has urged its members to call lawmakers and prepare for a fight over a new attempt to make Ohio a “right to work” state for private employees.

But the bill’s supporter said the state has seen a steep decline in the number of manufacturing jobs in the past 15 years and the legislation would make Ohio more competitive with neighboring states.

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The legislation, proposed by state Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr., R-Cincinnati, would make membership and dues optional for private companies in Ohio with a union workforce. State lawmakers are also expected to discuss similar legislation proposed by state Rep. John Becker, R-Cincinnati, that would affect public sector workers in Ohio.

Jason Barlow, president of the UAW Local 402, sent a letter urging members and retirees to call and email Ohio lawmakers to oppose Brinkman’s proposal. The UAW Local 402 represents nearly 1,500 workers at four units, including more than 1,300 employees at Navistar’s Springfield truck plant.

Other units include 125 workers at Navistar’s Truck Specialty Center Bargaining Unit, 19 employees at the Clark County Engineer’s office and 9 workers at the Akzo Nobel Paint in Springfield.

“We all came to work at this company for higher wages, better benefits and a safer workplace,” Barlow’s letter says. “Management did not offer to give those to us. We (the union) had to fight for everything we have. This bill is a direct attack on working men and women in the workplace.”

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But Ohio is now surrounded by states with right-to-work laws on the books, Brinkman said, with the exception of Pennsylvania. Brinkman also cited Amazon’s recent announcement to build a global cargo hub in Northern Kentucky instead of Wilmington, Ohio, arguing Kentucky’s right-to-work law was a factor in the decision.

“We need to do something different,” Brinkman said. “We need high-paying manufacturing jobs, we need technology jobs and we’re not even getting a shot at them.”

Ohio and its neighboring states all lost thousands of manufacturing jobs between 1999 and 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of manufacturing jobs in Ohio and Michigan fell about 32 percent, and Indiana and Kentucky saw about a 21 percent decline.

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Information from the BLS shows there were about 1 million manufacturing jobs in Ohio in January 1999, a figure that fell to about 688,400 by January 2016. Kentucky started with 307,400 manufacturing jobs in January 1999, and that fell to 242,500 by January last year.

Similar legislation has often been touted as a way to provide workers the choice of whether to be represented, but Barlow said the real intent is to cut off funding and erode union membership. The union’s ability to bargain has benefited Clark County’s economy, he said.

“It’s proven we have higher wages, better benefits and safer environments and that has a ripple effect on the communities where we live,” Barlow said.

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Only about 13 percent of Ohio’s workforce is represented by a union, he said, and he questioned the need for legislation if it affects only a small portion of workers.

If the legislation passes, Brinkman said, it likely wouldn’t have a major affect on companies with established unions. But he argued there is a concern some companies might consider moving to another state that has right-to-work laws if Ohio maintains the status quo.

“I don’t think the the right-to-work law would mean that people would suddenly de-certify the union,” Brinkman said. “Those unions are in those facilities. I’m just saying attracting businesses is where the right-to-work law is hurting us in Ohio. We’re not even getting a shot at some of these places.”

Brinkman said his legislation wouldn’t require unions to represent workers who choose not to pay dues or join.

In 2011, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed Senate Bill 5, which had sweeping changes in collective bargaining rights for hundreds of thousands of public employees in the state. But voters overturned the law later that year and Kasich has since said he wouldn’t push for similar legislation again.

Brinkman said it’s too early to say what response his legislation might get.

“To me it’s as clear as the nose on our face we’ve got to do it,” Brinkman said. “Obviously different people have different timetables and I don’t want to guess what the governor will do. I’m in the legislature and that’s up to him.”

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