YOUNGSTOWN - Tom Hinkle says Ohio is on the verge of losing its safety in the workplace if a right-to-work amendment gets on the November ballot and ultimately passes.
''The loss of safety will start in the non-union shops and then filter through the union shops,'' said the Ohio Department of Transportation Worker from Orwell.
''Right-to-work is wrong because it makes all of us unsafe. Last year, our opponents tried to take away our collective bargaining rights with Senate Bill 5. These rights give us a voice in the workplace and our right to speak up for safety is important,'' said Hinkle, one of three unionized workers who spoke out briefly at a press conference Saturday outside the Historical Center of Industry.
Tom Connelly, a nurse at Trumbull Memorial Hospital speaks out against the Right-to-Work premise.
Organizers of the effort to make Ohio a right-to-work state, however, say the move is intended only to give workers the option of whether or not to join a labor union.
According to the Ohioans for Workplace Freedom website, which is supporting the controversial measure, the group's ''goal is to secure workplace freedom for all Ohioans by amending Ohio's Constitution to guarantee the freedom of Ohioans to choose whether to participate in a labor organization as a condition of employment.''
They maintain the constitutional amendment would not prevent any person from voluntarily belonging to or supporting a labor organization, would not apply to labor agreements signed before the amendment and would not conflict with federal law or apply to federal employees.
But local members of ''We Are Ohio'' aren't buying it. On Saturday, they gathered in front of the Youngstown Historical Center of Instustry's landmark bronze-covered iron sculpture of hard-hatted workers to voice their opposition. The statewide group, ''We Are Ohio,'' is a citizen-driven coalition that successfully fought last year against Ohio Senate Bill 5.
It was just a few months after that collective bargaining law was repealed by Ohioans at the polls, the group known as Ohioans for Workplace Freedom got approval from the Ohio Secretary of State's Office in February to circulate petitions to get a right-to-work measure on the ballot this November or next year.
The group, a single-issue political action committee, is seeking 600,000 signatures from registered Ohio voters but needs only 386,000 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot. The group says the legislation frees employers from restrictive wage scales and could lead to more jobs in the state.
A similar law was signed in January in Indiana, considered the first state in the ''rust belt'' but the 22nd state to approve right-to-work.
Willie Sly, a second-year plumber and pipefitter's apprentice from Youngstown, said, ''In states where they take away your rights, they pay you less, they give you less training and that means less safety training.''
Tom Connelly of Warren, a nurse at Trumbull Memorial Hospital, said ''the trick-titled right-to-work is wrong because it takes away local control on important issues like safety.''
Connelly said before becoming a nurse he worked on a job where acid was often splashed on his stomach and he had no safety clothing, goggles, gloves, etc. Management passed out the equipment when federal inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) visited and then collected them when they left.
''Workers are on the frontline each and every day. We are the first to know when a piece of equipment is not safe. We have seen significant improvements in safe working conditions because workers have struggled for decades for increased safety on the job,'' said Connelly, a nurse for the past 32 years.
''The worker is the first to know if the brakes need to be replaced. Our unions have a long history of safety. Even in the hospital, it's commonplace to avoid needle sticks or back injuries,'' said Connelly, calling attention to this year's 20th anniversary of the Safe Work Place legislation that Ohio passed.
''Before that legislation, you could lose your job by bringing up hazards. Before 1992, street workers were told to jump in the hole and get to work. Now there are trench boxes that ensure safety,'' he said.