Rep. John Becker (R-Cincinnati) testifies before the House Finance Committee on his bill before a room packed with union members who oppose it. Credit: Courtesy of Karen Kasler

Ohio continues to stand as an island among Midwestern and Southern states without any right-to-work laws, but that soon could be subject to change. Thanks to efforts from Ohio Rep. John Becker and his co-sponsors, a new right-to-work bill, dubbed House Bill 53, had its first public hearing in the Ohio House on Tuesday.

Opposers of such legislation packed into the committee room to voice their opposition, many being union members and workers’ rights advocates.

Ready to hit the ground running post-midterms, Becker and supporters are ambitious to get right to work legislation passed in Ohio.

“I think it boils down to Ohio’s future economically is at stake,” Ohio Rep. Craig Riedel, cosigner of House Bill 53 said. “It’s my belief that Ohio as a state is going to over time fall further behind our neighboring states.”

Right-to-work bills have already been passed in 28 states, including neighboring Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan.

Right-to-work bills make it illegal to force workers to join unions or pay fair-share fees. Fair-share fees are what non-union members pay to receive the benefits fought for by unions, such as raises, wages, benefits and labor standards. In states with right-to-work laws, it is on the unions to fulfill the financial needs to sustain a union without fair-share fees.

Proponents of right-to-work legislations argue that with such laws in place, workers have more freedom in their decisions to associate with a union.

“I think it’s unfair that an individual can be terminated simply because they choose not to be part of a union,” Riedel said. “That’s wrong. I think that goes against our values system in the United States of America.”

Riedel also observes the economic importance of the bill in keeping Ohio competitive.

“Right to work is part of the decision when companies are deciding on where they want to locate,” Riedel said. “The longer we wait and chose not to be a right to work state, I think we’re just going to fall behind our neighboring states.”

Becker, the primary sponsor of the bill, said in his testimony that the bill “will simply align Ohio law to federal case law.” Last June, the United States Supreme Court ruled that unions cannot force any dues or fees from non-members, essentially imposing national right-to-work laws.

Opposers of the legislation believe that it suppresses union voices by limiting their resources, which therefore limits workers’ access to benefits, such as workplace standards and health care benefits.

“Right to work really is the attempts for those who want to have total control of the workforce to really slowly bleed out unions,” said Jason Perlman, political director of the Ohio chapter of American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Perlman noted the effects of the financial strain that right to work legislation places on unions.

“Over time, the unions can’t afford to operate. They have to hire staff to negotiate the contracts and lawyers to oversee,” Perlman said. “It costs the same to represent everybody, and under a right-to-work law, even if a person opts out of a union, the union still has to represent them as if they’re a part.”

In 2011, Ohio voters overwhelmingly voted against the now-infamous Senate Bill 5 that served to limit collective bargaining, or employment negotiation, for unions. Riedel notes that with House Bill 53, it has nothing to do with collective bargaining.

“It’s just allowing an individual to choose whether or not to be a part of a union with their job not on the line. That’s all it is,” Riedel said. “It’s not restricting or restaining union’s abilities to collectively bargain.”

In January, Becker and Riedel proposed a House Joint Resolution with six resolutions that regard workers’ freedoms in choosing to affiliate with a union. Unlike the right-to-work bill itself, the House Joint Resolution can go straight to the ballot if it passes by more than 60 percent in both the state senate and state house.

“I feel like this is the way to go about this so that way, the citizens of Ohio will have the final word,” Riedel said. “It’s a series of resolutions that involve different subjects. They’re all a little bit different.”

Governor-elect Mike DeWine made it abundantly clear on the campaign trail that right-to-work legislation is not a priority of his.

While the legislation or the resolutions might not be at the top of Ohio political agenda any time soon, supporters are hopeful to sway DeWine and other figures in time for the 2020 ballot.