Will Ohio Be the Next Right to Work State?


As appeared in the Human Resource of Central Ohio (HRACO) monthly newsletter


Will Ohio Be The Next Right To Work State? 

If you haven’t heard of the group Ohioans for Workplace Freedom, you will. They are the people obtaining signatures to put a constitutional amendment on Ohio’s ballot either this fall or in 2013. The amendment, if passed would make Ohio a right to work state. So what is a right to work state and why should you care if Ohio becomes one?

In right to work states, employees are permitted to opt out of paying union dues without losing their jobs. Today in Ohio, if a job classification is unionized, all employees working in that classification must be members of the union and pay union dues. For example, if STNAs of a nursing home are in the SEIU, all STNAs employed by that nursing home must pay union dues even if they do not want to be in the union. In right to work states, the employees are not required to pay union dues but still receive union wages, representation, and work under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

Roughly half of the states in the United States have enacted laws making them right to work states. These states have noticeably lower rates of unionized workforces than compulsory union states like Ohio. Many US companies have relocated to right to work states in recent years and foreign companies typically choose a right to work state when setting up shop here. For example, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Volkswagen, Honda, Boeing and many of their suppliers have recently built factories in right to work states in large part because of lower labor costs and the increased likelihood of having a non-union workforce.

The reason that right to work states have lower unionization rates is simple. Unions are a business and any business needs money to survive. For unions, money comes in the form of union dues. Since union workers in right to work states receive the same terms and conditions of employment regardless if they pay union dues, many employees opt out of paying dues. Without guarantee dues money, unions lose the incentive to campaign, lobby, and represent workers in right to work states. Instead, unions focus on non-right to work states where, if they organize a group of employees, they are certain that each employee will pay dues money to the union.

The business side of being a right to work state is pretty clear – without unions, employers and management have the ability to run their companies without the approval of a union and without collective bargaining agreements. Recently right to work states have attracted more large business relocations than other states. There is an argument that for Ohio to be competitive in luring more community-changing companies like Honda in Marysville and The Limited in New Albany, making Ohio a right to work state is essential.

Unions of course oppose right to work laws because they literally take money out of union coffers. In fact, unions refer to the laws as “right to work for less” implying that worker wages in right to work states are less than in compulsory union states. Anecdotally, the cost of living in right to work states is generally less, as well. As for individual employees, their desire whether to be in a union is a personal decision with many variables including whether they agree with the concepts of seniority, union dues, and collective bargaining agreements.

The issue of whether Ohio should become a right to work state has the potential to be as large and contentious as Senate Bill 5 was last election cycle. Regardless of your position on unions, you will undoubtedly hear more about Ohioans for Workplace Freedom and right to work laws. Since unionization affects human resource personnel, I will continue to update HRACO members of developments of this issue as they occur.


Matt Austin is a Columbus, Ohio labor lawyer who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. Matt can be reached by email at Matt.Austin@Austin-Legal.com or by phone at 614.285.5342.