Columbus -- Dozens of union members and supporters packed two Statehouse hearing rooms and hallways Dec. 1 in a show of opposition to right-to-work legislation being considered by state lawmakers.

At issue is HB 377, which would bar mandatory union membership or dues payments.

Comparable law changes have been proposed in past general assemblies and a stalled constitutional amendment petition effort.

Proponents have said repeatedly that Ohioans shouldn't be forced to join unions or make payments to those groups.

Opponents have said repeatedly that right to work would hurt unions, leading to lower wages and less protection in Ohio workplaces.

Gov. John Kasich has not pursued right to work in Ohio to date, saying on multiple occasions that he doesn't see the need for the law changes at this time.

On Dec. 1, many of the same positions were reiterated during the initial hearing on HB 377 before the Ohio House's Commerce and Labor Committee.

Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr. (R-Mt. Lookout) said 25 other states have already adopted right to work, including Ohio's neighbors Indiana and Michigan.

The legislation, he said, would make the state more attractive to companies considering relocations and expansions and would ensure Ohioans have the freedom to choose whether to become union members.

"Simply put, this bill is about making Ohio more competitive and business friendly, as well as supporting personal liberty," he said, adding, "Why should someone have their hard-earned money taken and used to support issues, political or social, that they may not agree with? If this bill passes, then unions will have to compete on a level playing field for membership."

Brinkman said right to work would push unions to better represent their members, having to compete to solidify their ranks.

"My understanding is that many times this right to work makes the unions work harder for their membership, makes them earn their place ," he said. "What's always amazing to me is when I hear about when they have union elections, they actually have less a turnout than we have in some of our general elections. You really wonder how much people are involved in their unions."

Brinkman also said proponents of right to work would provide statistics and studies during future hearings to show the benefits of the changes.

Democrats on the committee, however, voiced opposition to the bill, noting safety, income, discrimination and other workplace concerns.

Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown) cited statistics showing right to work states having lower wages and income, fewer job-based benefits and higher poverty rates, among other issues.

She used an analogy of people wanting the benefits of membership of a YMCA or chamber of commerce without paying any dues for the privilege.

"That's what you're asking the union to do -- to represent and protect people, offer them negotiated health care benefits, and do it without a member paying," Lepore-Hagan said. "That's why it's called fair share, and you want to take that way."

Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati) questioned why Brinkman would pursue right to work, given the defeat of Republican-backed collective bargaining reforms by voters four years ago.

"Is this bill worth dividing the state when we've already gone to the ballot and people came out [and rejected SB 5]," Reece said, prompting applause from attendees at the Dec. 1 hearing. " Is this your personal thing or is this something the governor will sign or is this again a direct slap in the face to the voters who came out in record numbers not too long ago when a similar bill divided our state?"

There's no indication that the right to work bill is on a fast track toward passage.

Rep. Ron Young (R-Lake County), who serves as chairman of the Commerce and Labor Committee, indicated that the legislation would be subject to multiple hearings and a lengthy process before any potential vote.

"We've got to hear all of the issue on this particular version to see what's going on," he said. "I'm not a rubber stamp on this. If we have hearings again on it, it will be proponent testimony, then opponent, then interested party and then maybe we'll go through the whole process again."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.