By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog
For decades, Ohio county commissioners have been eager to put property tax levies on the ballot to “let the voters decide.” But why are they suddenly opposed to this concept when it applies to unions?
Lucas County commissioners recently passed a resolution opposing the Workplace Freedom Amendment, also known as a right-to-work amendment. The vote from the three Democrats was unanimous.
But in 2012, they voted to place five property tax levies on the ballot, including a 45 percent increase for the library, a 67 percent increase for the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board and an 85 percent increase for the Children Services Board.
When challenged about the huge increases, the general comments were that putting the measures on the ballot would allow the voters to decide whether these organizations should get the additional funds.
There is a certain logic in that approach.
But if this is the logic for tax increases, why are the people so trusted with such a decision suddenly bereft of enough judgment to vote on a straight forward right-to-work measure and decide for themselves whether they want to be in a union?
The right-to-work amendment is simple and easy to understand. It says a person can’t be required to join or remain a member of a labor organization; no one can be required, as a condition of employment, to pay anything to a labor organization; if you sue over violations of the amendment and win, you are entitled to relief as well as attorney fees, costs and other damages.
The amendment doesn’t forbid unions. It doesn’t restrict what unions can bargain for. It doesn’t change any of the collective bargaining rights. It just says that people cannot be required to join or pay for union representation if they don’t want to.
So why would commissioners – and others – be so adamantly opposed?
The commissioners’ resolution says “special interest groups” are promoting the amendment. That may be true, but aren’t unions also a special interest group?
Wikipedia says a special interest group is “a community with an interest in advancing a specific area of knowledge, learning or technology where members cooperate to affect or to produce solutions within their particular field, and may communicate, meet, and organize conferences. They may at times also advocate or lobby on a particular issue or on a range of issues but are generally distinct from Advocacy groups and pressure groups which are normally set up for the specific political aim; the distinction is not firm however and some organizations can adapt and change their focus over time.”
That definition certainly fits a union, especially the unions in Lucas County and other large urban areas.
The commissioners say the amendment is an “attack on working families and the middle class.” But how can ensuring an individual has the ability to decide about joining a special interest be equated to an attack all working families and all of the people grouped in the middle class?
The commissioners say the goal is to “outsource jobs, cut wages and reduce benefit (sic) at the expense of workers, small business and the economy.” But since the amendment doesn’t prohibit a union from bargaining over wages and benefits, how can one person deciding not to join a union result in all these presumably terrible things?
And how, exactly, does having a mixed workforce — union and non-union — cause a company to decide to outsource jobs? Isn’t such a monumental decision built upon a number of factors such as location of raw materials and customers, taxes and profitability, as well as the cost of labor? If companies can, as the commissioners claim, cut the costs of wages and benefits, wouldn’t that make them more likely to not outsource? Isn’t this claim contradictory?
The commissioners say that right-to-work laws “weaken the voice of everyday heroes, such as nurses, firefighters, police officers and first responders by making it harder for them to bargain for safe staffing levels and necessary equipment to keep communities safe.”
How can this be? How does not forcing nurses, firefighters, police officers and first responders to pay dues or fees to a union weaken the union’s ability to bargain for the members it keeps?
The only way these claims can hold true is if the unions believe that allowing individuals to opt-out of union membership would result in huge numbers of their members making that choice.
But if unions are doing such good work on behalf of their members and they truly believe that membership has benefits that are worth the cost, what are they so afraid of?
In the end, it’s all about the money.
Forced unionization means that everyone in the workforce pays either dues or what the union determines is a ‘fair share’ for the representation the union provides and being able to participate in the benefits the union negotiates. In some instances, the fair share fee is the same as the union dues.
If people no longer have to pay, unions will have a reduction in income and will either have to reduce salaries or make other cuts. It also means that money spent on lobbying and making donations to candidates will decrease.
In the case of the Lucas County commissioners, that could be costly. During the 2012 election, Pete Gerken received more than $11,000 — or 32 percent of his campaign contributions — from unions. The other commission up for election that year, Tina Skeldon-Wozniak, received more than $17,000, which was 42 percent of her total contributions.
No wonder they don’t want to let the people decide.