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New report from pro-labor group pans right-to-work proposals

(February 13, 2018) — In the wake of proposed right-to-work amendments by Republican lawmakers, a newly released report is recommending politicians can support Ohio workers by backing off of regulating unions.

The report, “A New Way Forward: 10 Ways to Support Ohio’s Working People,” by Policy Matters Ohio, a left-leaning policy research institute, opposes right-to-work laws and recommends a raised minimum wage, as well as several other worker-friendly policies.

At a press conference Tuesday, one of the researchers behind the report, Hannah Halbert, called right-to-work laws “deceptive.”

Right-to-work laws allow employees to work in unionized workplaces without being a member of the union, and keep employees from having to pay union dues even if they are covered by a union. Proponents say this gives employees more workplace freedom, but opponents argue it could lead to decreased union membership and a decline in worker representation.

Halbert pointed out a wage gap between unionized and non-unionized workers. According to Halbert’s research, unionized workers in Ohio make up to $8,000 more than their non-unionized counterparts. She added union workers who generate more income also pay more taxes and benefit the state.

“There’s been a vast gulf in what workers here in Ohio are making and what they’re taking home,” Halbert said.

A pair of Republican state representatives, Craig Riedel of Defiance and John Becker of Union Township near Cincinnati, recently proposed six constitutional amendments that would effectively make Ohio a right-to-work state, according to a previous Dispatch report.

“This is not an affront to unions,” Riedel said at a January press conference. “This is not an affront to collective bargaining. This is about workers’ rights to decide if they want to be part of a union.”

The lawmakers are trying to distance their proposed amendments, which would be on the ballot in 2020, from the ill-fated Senate Bill 5 of 2011. That bill in effect attempted to make Ohio a right-to-work state for public sector employees but failed, with more than 60 percent of Ohio voters against it.

Cincinnati firefighter Doug Stern, who also serves as the communications director for the Ohio

Association of Professional Fire Fighters, said the amendments are “this year’s version of Senate Bill 5.”

States where right-to-work laws pass don’t benefit workers, Rudy Fichtenbaum, a professor emeritus of economics at Wright State University, said. He pointed out the 2016 Carrier Air Conditioner decision to move its production from Indiana, a right-to-work state, to Mexico — a decision that was later partially reversed.

Fichtenbaum said as unionization rates decline, inequality increases.

“The real goal of right-to-work is just to weaken unions,” Fichtenbaum said. “Unions help working people actually have a say at what’s going on in their workplace.”

Right-to-work laws are an issue nationally. A U.S. Supreme Court Case, Janus V. AFSCME, could invalidate or uphold the constitutionality of requiring dues in public sector union shops.

The legislators who proposed the Ohio constitutional amendments say the move would attract and benefit businesses in Ohio.

A total of 28 states currently have right-to-work laws, including Ohio neighbors Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky.