July 24, 2016

Partly cloudy

Conservatives launch effort to make Ohio a ‘right-to-work’ state

A coalition of tea party members and other conservative grassroots groups have launched a drive aimed at making Ohio a “right-to-work” state.

But instead of the legislative deal brokered in Michigan earlier this week with no public hearings, Ohioans for Workplace Freedom is using an initiative petition to put a right-to-work issue on the November ballot and let Ohio voters decide.

Jim Woods

The proposed amendment to the state constitution being circulated with petitions would make it illegal to require employees to join unions as a condition of employment, and it would also end the practice of taking union dues directly out of paychecks.

Chris Littleton of Ohioans for Workplace Freedom said his group hopes to get at least 386,000 signatures to submit by July.

“We’re feeling great, and we’re enthusiastic,” said Littleton, of West Chester. “We wouldn’t have launched this measure without good internal polling.”

Littleton said he thinks grassroots groups that helped put the Ohio Healthcare Freedom Amendment, which passed in the November 2011 election, will step up again to pass right-to-work legislation.

Part of that help could come from groups like Medina County Friends And Neighbors, a conservative group that has aligned with the tea party and other conservative groups.

“We’ll probably be starting up again this spring,” said Jim Woods, the founder of the conservative group. “Our people are involved in lots of different initiatives … that would probably be one of them.”

If a right-to-work issue makes it to the ballot, Ohio unions are prepared to fight back, said Tom Morneweck, president of the Tri-County Labor Council representing AFL-CIO members in Medina, Summit and Portage counties.

“I firmly believe we sent a loud and clear message to (Gov. John) Kasich last year with Senate Bill 5,” he said. “We’re up for the fight. We’ll do whatever it takes.”

Senate Bill 5, a bill that included restrictions on collective bargaining and altered other union regulations, was signed into law by Kasich and was supported by House and Senate majority Republicans including House Speaker Bill Batchelder, R-Medina.

But a referendum drive put it on the November 2011 ballot, where it was repealed by a wide margin.

Since that setback, GOP lawmakers have shied away from further attempts to change laws governing Ohio unions. They also have indicated they don’t plan to follow Michigan in taking up right-to-work legislation.

Littleton said his group’s proposal will have wider support among workers than Senate Bill 5.

“This is so fundamentally different because it is so simple,” he said. “They would have a choice, it doesn’t prevent anyone from joining a union, and it doesn’t alter contracts. You can’t be stopped from your right to association, so it’s totally different.”

Opponents of right-to-work laws said the proposals are designed to cripple unions by allowing workers who benefit from union contracts to avoid paying dues.

Medina County Democratic Party Chair John Welker predicted that if Ohio becomes a right-to-work state, union members are “going to see more impact on benefits.”

“They’re going to see their wage increases be reduced, and all the benefits unions have fought for over the years will be eroded,” he said.

Ohio union members are watching the events in Michigan carefully.

Brunswick City Councilman Dave Coleman is a member of the Sheet Metal Workers Local 33 based in Parma. He drove to Michigan on Tuesday to join fellow union members in protesting the signing of the right to work bill into law.

“We were chanting, and trying to get them to stop moving forward,” Coleman said. “It didn’t faze them, they passed it anyway.”

Coleman said right-to-work laws erode the ability of unions to bargain.

“My union is negotiating for 1,000 people,” he said. “We keep costs down by negotiating in numbers.”

Dennis Slotis, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 15, which includes Brunswick, Brunswick Hills and Hinckley, said making Ohio a right-to-work state could affect the role unions play in the community.

As examples, Slotis said his union allows Cub Scout groups to use its facility in Brunswick, as well as providing a training facility for police agencies from the area.

The union also holds fundraisers, such as the popular “Shop With a Cop” program.

“Anything that might affect the involvement or cause us to lose membership would make it harder to maintain the things we do,” Slotis said.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.