Ohio Statehouse Newsroom

Lawmakers uncertain about the future of Right to Work bills in Post-Janus Ohio

As the dust was still settling on the last voting session day for the Ohio House of Representatives and Senate, leaders of both chambers fielded questions about another major piece of news occurring while they were busy passing legislation; the Janus v. AFSCME decision made by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

The decision in the Janus case was expected to have wide sweeping ramifications and as such several pieces of legislation dealing with how employees and employers interacted with unions were put on hold until SCOTUS made its ruling.

When SCOTUS ruled in favor of Janus, which is to say that he as a public-sector employee cannot be forced to pay dues to a union he does not belong to, some Republicans were very pleased at the Ohio Statehouse.

One of those Republicans is Kristina Roegner, who is commonly described as a conservative lawmaker.

Roegner was already pleased that the Pastor Protection Act was passed out of the House and was headed to the Senate when she talked to me. The bill protects clergy and religious societies from lawsuits if they refuse to solemnize the marriage of a couple that does not conform to their religious beliefs, or if they deny access to property and services to that couple.

She described the day as a trifecta of what was in her opinion good news; the Janus decision, Pastor Protection, and the announcement of Justice Kennedy’s retirement from the high court.

When it came to the Janus decision, Roegner hoped that it would embolden lawmakers at the Statehouse to pick up and push more Right to Work legislation.

Right to Work has been pursued on the fringes of the legislature for years, but seldom got beyond a hearing or two.

Perhaps that is because it was caught up in Senate Bill 5, which passed the legislature and was ultimately rejected by the voters via referendum.

Roegner quickly points out that Senate Bill 5 was very much about collective bargaining rights and rules placed on them. She says, while a small portion of the bill dealt with Right to Work, it was by no means the driving force of the bill.

In her view Right to Work is a protective action that allows for people who are not part of a union to now have to pay union dues which she says inevitably end up being used by unions for political ends in the form of donations to campaigns or through the purchase of advertising.

She says people who are not in the union should not be forced to pay for a point of view they may not share.

The other side of the argument says those non-union members should have to pay the dues because the bargaining that went into securing their wages and benefits, and the protections the union provides the despite their lack of enrollment in the union in the legal arena has a cost.

One side says the dues pay for politics the other says it pays for the costs to keep employees protected.

The reality is it’s both but neither side likes to admit it, because it hurts their narrative. In the hyper partisan society we live in at the moment both sides get more mileage out of omitting the opposite side.

Setting that aside; Roegner’s eagerness to get Right to Work rolling in Ohio again may not be shared by other GOP lawmakers.

Speaker of the House Ryan Smith was unfamiliar with the ruling the day it was released, and frankly told reporters that he would want someone smarter than he was in that realm to review the ruling and fill him in on what it meant.

Senate president Larry Obhof likewise was a bit busy the day of the ruling and said, as far as he understood things, legislation on Right to Work would be pointless since the issue at hand was a constitutional argument that SCOTUS decided definitively.

It should be pointed out that the Janus ruling was made on the rights of public-sector employees, but that isn’t making private-sector unions any less nervous.

Democrat Minority Leader Fred Strahorn says he is deeply concerned about the SCOTUS ruling and what it could mean for other cases like it. He calls it an attack on working people.

“For us as the Democratic caucus, that’s an ongoing battle and ongoing concern,” said Strahorn. “The Janus decision only makes me lose a little more sleep at night; but we’re prepared to fight for working people no matter what comes in lame duck and after.”


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