WITH VIDEO: Roegner, Maag to offer Right to Work bills tomorrow, over Democratic objections

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published:

Columbus -- Republican lawmakers in the Ohio House plan to introduce legislation that would ban mandatory union membership and dues payments, over strenuous objections from Statehouse Democrats and labor groups.

State Rep. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson) confirmed Tuesday afternoon that she would offer one of two Right to Work bills, with hers focused on workers in the private sector. Rep. Ron Maag, a Republican from southwestern Ohio, will carry separate legislation affecting public employees.

The two lawmakers released requests for co-sponsors, and the legislation will be unveiled officially during an afternoon press conference Wednesday.

"I believe in individual freedom to join a union and to pay the union dues and be represented by them," Roegner said. "If you want to do that, that's wonderful, God bless you, go do it. But I also recognize and respect people's choice if they don't want to go that route. You should have the freedom in this state to choose one or the other."

Roegner and other supporters say the Right to Work changes are needed to make Ohio more competitive for businesses and protect residents who don't want to join organized labor. About two dozen other states have implemented comparable changes, including Michigan and Indiana.

"Being a workplace freedom state, a Right to Work state, gives them a competitive advantage over their peer states that are not," Roegner said, adding later, "I just think it's worthy of a conversation here in Ohio. Our neighbors are going this route. They see the value in it. We ought to at least be discussing it."

Ohio voters rejected a similar move in the late 1950s.

Democratic and union leaders oppose the effort, saying it would hurt organized labor and, ultimately, all working Ohioans.

The bills propose law changes rather than a constitutional amendment to be placed before voters. Tea Party groups continue to circulate their own petitions with hopes of accomplishing the latter, though leaders of that effort have said they may not gain enough signatures to qualify for the November general election.

"Clearly the extremists in the Republican Party didn't get the message when Ohioans overwhelmingly rejected these attacks on workers' rights in 2011," House Minority Leader Armond Budish said in a released statement, referring to voters' rejection of Senate Bill 5. "We stand ready to fight these attacks on Ohio's middle class again."

Becky Williams, president of the Service Employees International Union District 1199, added in a released statement, "I am just appalled by the efforts of Reps. Maag and Roegner to once again attempt to silence the voice of workers across the state of Ohio, this time in both the public and private sector. ... This is just another attempt by CEOs and corporate interests to end unions, as we know them so they can tip the balance even more in their favor at the expense of the middle class."

But Roegner countered assertions that the new legislation was an attempt to pass provisions of Senate Bill 5.

"Senate Bill 5 was putting guard rails and restrictions around collective bargaining," she said. "This is giving the workers freedom to choose. To me it's two totally separate things."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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