Making Ohio a Right to Work state would weaken Cleveland Heights Teachers Union

Think about these three scenarios regarding buying an ice cream sundae:

  • The first person gets a sundae with a cherry on top and pays full price.
  • The second gets a sundae, doesn’t want the cherry, and pays full price. In fairness, the ice cream clerk rebates five cents for not taking a cherry.
  • The third gets a sundae, doesn’t want the cherry, and refuses to pay anything.

These three situations exemplify the laws in different states pertaining to collective bargaining agreements.

Paying full price are union members. They pay dues and are represented in their relationship with their employer, and with their state and national parent organizations.

The second scenario relates to the law we have in Ohio, and in the CH-UH City School District, called “Fair Share,” where the cherry represents a union’s political activity. When a union represents a group of employees, there may be some who do not or cannot join the union based on political, religious or other personal beliefs. In the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union, there are two such individuals out of about 600. They are not required to join the union, but are considered Fair Share payers because they get a rebate on the portion of dues that the local determines is spent on political activity. These Fair Share payers benefit from contracts negotiated on their behalf and are entitled to union representation in grievances and employee discipline matters. As the name implies, it is fair.

The free sundae scenario is what some other states have, (mis)named “Right to Work.” In Right to Work states, bargaining unit members who do not want to join the union pay no dues at all—even though their wages and benefits are bargained by the union. In these states, the union is required to represent these non-members if they get in trouble in the workplace, even requiring the union to pay legal bills for someone who does not contribute dues—the union’s sole income source. Unlike Fair Share, this type of freeloading works counter to [giving workers a] voice in the workplace by driving people apart who should have common interests.

Currently under consideration is an Ohio House bill that would make Ohio a Right to Work state for the private sector. This would weaken unions all over the state and, by default, all workers. Where unions are weaker, wages are lower and safety in workplaces is not challenged as much.

The larger threat for unions nationwide is under consideration in the U.S. Supreme Court. A ruling in the spring on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association might allow employees to opt out of union membership in both public and private sectors.

In our community, there are many public and private sector union households that would be affected. It is hard to know the overall negative economic impact such a law would have in the Heights.

The CH Teachers Union has good relations with school administration and the community. We work through issues together, knowing that we have the same interests and goals for our students. If legislation restricting union activity passes, it would force us to put the majority of our effort on protecting what we have, not working toward solving problems collaboratively. Our efforts would have to concentrate on how to survive. Not being able to adequately represent people would lead to division in our ranks that would force us to become either more complacent or more militant—neither of which is healthy for the operations of a school district. Our efforts to work in the community to educate citizens about current issues in education would probably also come to a halt, as time and resources become scarce. Our local would probably have to shutter our office and small staff. We work jointly with the school district to subsidize professional development for our members. If money got tight, that would suffer, robbing our teachers of high-quality, researched-based information to take back to their classrooms. None of our current operations would be impossible under Right to Work restrictions but, over time, membership in the union would deteriorate.

The fundamental question should be, do you think it is fair to get a sundae for free because you don’t want the cherry?

Ari Klein

Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.

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Volume 8, Issue 11, Posted 2:58 PM, 10.29.2015