Right-to-Work: Union Busting in Indiana

by Marvin Williams

Republican members of the Indiana House of Representatives have just introduced a bill deceptively captioned “Employee’s right to work.” The title misrepresents the bill’s true intent which is to do just the opposite. The bill’s real purpose is to stop working people from organizing themselves in unions so they can truly exercise their right to work.

The House bill no. 1043 was introduced January 5, 2011 by Representatives Torr, Culver, Kubacki, and Turner; received first reading; and was referred to the Committee on Employment, Labor, and Pensions. Interestingly, when asked December 26, 2010 by an Indianapolis Star reporter about the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s drive to put “right-to-work” on the legislative agenda, Republican Governor Mitch Daniels said, “I don’t think it should be a subject of debate and vote in this particular General Assembly.” In the Governor’s 2011 State of the State address the words “right-to-work” were unmentioned.

In summary, the right-to-work bill would make “it a Class A misdemeanor for an employer to require an individual to: (1) become or remain a member of a labor organization; (2) pay dues, fees, or other charges to a labor organization; or (3) pay to a charity or another third party an amount that represents dues, fees, or other charges required of members of a labor organization; as a condition of employment or continuation of employment. Establishes a separate private right of action for violations or threatened violations.”

Right-to-work laws such as that proposed for Indiana have been around since passage in 1947 of the Taft-Hartley Act over President Truman’s veto. There currently are such laws in twenty-two states, mostly in the South and West.

Pros and Cons

Proponents of right-to-work legislation find their strongest argument in the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of association and argue that laws to the contrary are unconstitutional and therefore illegal. Another objection is that a portion of union dues goes to political causes workers may not personally support. Arguments based on the common law principle of the ownership of private property cut both ways: individual employees should not be compelled to join and pay dues to a union, and right-to-work laws interfere with the way business does business.

Right-to-work laws come with great costs, economic and social, to workers and the general public. Union members point out that non-union members are “free riders” because they benefit from contracts negotiated by the union, but bear none of the cost. Because all employees benefit from the fruits of collectively bargained labor agreements, whether union members or not, there is less incentive to join the union. Wages in right-to-work states are significantly lower and worker’s health and safety standards more lax. Workplace fatalities are highest in right-to-work states.

A Tough Fight Ahead

There are many powerful and well-funded organizations pushing to make Indiana the twenty-third right-to-work state. It could take all the forces of labor and the allies it can call upon to stop it.

Some of the supporters of “right-to-work” are well known: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Others have purposefully confusing yet appealing names just to fool the public about their real purposes. Among these shadow groups are the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace and the Employee Freedom Action Committee.
How should those who see the dangers of right-to-work legislation make their opposition felt?

Letters to the editor are helpful. Letters, e-mails, phone calls, and other forms of electronics to legislators will be more effective. What will be most effective is a coalition of labor and progressive forces. In Indiana, Jobs with Justice, working with the AFL-CIO, is taking on that leadership.

Wes Culver, one of the sponsors of this year’s right-to-work bill, co-authored a similar bill in 2008, but it never made it to the floor for a vote. A story in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star tells why. “There was strong public opposition from Democrats in both the House and Senate, as well as reluctance from some Republican leaders to push for legislation that was predicted for defeat in the then-Democrat-dominated House.”

This year Republicans control both chambers of the General Assembly as well as the Governor’s office. Perhaps the best thing the Democrats have going for them is that the Governor doesn’t want to invest much time on “right-to-work” this year. Next year, in his final year in office, the Governor might want to take up the issue and try to make passage of “right-to-work” a signature piece to his administration.

Marvin Williams is Chair of Central Indiana Democratic Socialists of America

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16 Responses

  1. In addition… if you know an honest and hard working religious person who believes abortion is a sin, as a condition of employment, why should s/he be forced to join and/or financially support an organization that defends the killing of an unborn child? In light of today’s Forced Unionism within our USA, that example is happening every day with unions like SEIU. In order to protect our workers, one solution is to pass a ‘Right To Work State’ law in your area. Don’t you agree? FMI, see http://www.nrtw.org/rtws.htm

    • We need the union!! Everyone will be working for little pay! Our economy will be nothing but mimimum wage jobs. No more middle class families. The union provides better working conditions, employee rights, pensions, etc..

      • I’m a union Journeyman Bricklayer in Indy , As an apprentice we spend 4 years in related technical classes & no less than 6000 hours of employment to become a Journeyman , We are educated in safety we are drug free , Are safety & lives are dependent on a high standard of professionalism , I worked on the Simon Tower project 10 stories in the air, my life & those around me depended on those Crane operators & Laborers on the ground & in the air , Who have the training to get this work done safely , Who is safe if right to work passes & people with no OSHA training or who might be on drugs or are just incompetent are able to work on these jobs with us . We are not forced into the union , I’v worked non union in the past , Cutting corners & shoddy work is what I saw , I’m thankful to work in a safe environment with people who are highly trained professionals , Who will insure that non union people will be held to the same standard of professionalism that we now have . Our union trains us who will train these people that we would be expected to work with , How about right to work for people who want to be doctors or dentists , Would you want uneducated health professionals working on you , How about teachers should they be educated to teach or should that be right to work also , None of these examples make sense do they , And yet its all the same .

    • Unionism is not forced. It is voted on and only accepted if it is approved by a majority of workers in workplace or an industry. It is similar to how we elect our officials and representatives. They lead our country by introducing legislation which is voted on. If a union member wishes to change where support is given, they may bring it up through the proper methods and have it voted on.
      Killing is a sin but do you stand up against those companies that provide guns and ammunition etc to people who commit genocide and murder? Do you tell your representative to shut down those companies? Are you choosing which sins are acceptable and which aren’t?

    • abortions and unions are two differnt topics right to work wuld lower incomes. I was not forced to join a union i joined for better pay and beniffets. right to work would lower peoples standard of living and most people with low standard of living have abortions so in turn abortions rates would probably go up.

  2. It has been said united we stand divided we beg its all common sense guys Indiana just messed up

  3. I am a union millwright and lived in Spokane wa and seen what a right state ( Idaho ) had to offer. Low paying jobs and poverty. Idaho attracts companies that pay low wages and offer very little benefits. also low minimum wage scale.

  4. what????? I am 47 and have worked in both types of shops most of the benefits I enjoy I pay for out of my own pocket the unions in this century do not normally pay for training we do not enjoy the union benefits of our fathers those are being gave away at every contract negotiation for new agreements. the unions are giving in and letting two tier pay systems destroy solidarity
    within the ranks of your locals
    it has got so bad most companies offer benifits as good or better than the unions can provide without the hastle of trying to get someone to represent you if you do have a problem

  5. It took me 4 years to get the opportunity to prove myself as an Apprentice Ironworker. I joined Local 395 and am loving every second of it. It was said earlier, “united we stand, Divided we beg”, that holds dear to my heart. Right To Work is just another way to cripple the good strong unions like my own. They will let “scabs” come into these highly dangerous mills to work hundreds of feet in the air with us. I’m being taught all kinds about safety, OSHA, gas training, and fall hazards. How many of those non-union members will receive the same training?

    Remember that when you drive past another sky-scraper or giant structure, wonder and pray that it was put together by an educated UNION trained member, and not someone who lucked into an extremely dangerous and demanding job.

  6. Did you know that Ohio used the ballot initiative process to overturn Right to Work legislation? Let’s bring referendum rights to Indiana!

  7. I am from vancouver,canada and i wanted to say that this Right to Work law should be opposed by the working class in all the states.It is an extremely reactionary law.If this law is passed it will be a big blow to the working class.Without a union the workers are no better than slaves.This is the time for workers to take to the streets.This law don’t fool anyone.As the economy gets worse the working class will have to become united so that we can win this important fight for humanity.We can’t afford to lose this battle.

  8. People should not be required to join any organization they don’t want to. To me that is against a workers free rights. The unions don’t like this. They don’t want the right to work laws because they know most people will say they don’t want to be forced into a union as a condition of employment. Union membership and their excessive dues will decline. Yea for free choice. Isn’t that the American way. Let freedom ring!!!!

    • My husband and many men in my family are Union.They all chose to pay there dues and be trained for the jobs they do,and for that they get paid well.They feed there families from that choice they made and anyone that does’nt want to join the union don’t, that’s there choice.If right to work passes people will take are uinon strong jobs get paid less and food out of many families mouth.Why should my husband lose out on a job just because some person that didn’t want to work in the first place get hired for less and not even no what he’s doing

      • Why should someone lose out on feeding their own families because they don’t want to join a Union? Right to work doesn’t force the unions to dissolve. People like your husband can still join a union if they want to. In non-Right to work states, people can be forced to join a union as part of the stipulation for getting the job. That’s wrong. Its unconstitutional. If a union is really needed for a company, people will join it, but if someone doesn’t want to give money to a union that does things they don’t agree with, they shouldn’t have to.

  9. Unions are not what they are cut out to be. My wife and i have been union members for over 20 years and her union has done NOTHING for her. her union rep is a joke. you have a problem and you can’t find this guy or if he is found he doesn’t do anything to help you. we were against the “right to work” law but now we’re for it. the laborers local 204 has a office ast. adminstrator who has a hit list of women he dislikes and is getting rid of while he plays footsy with his office bimbo. why doesn’t this union rep help these women who have lost there job to this so called “god”, i’ll tell you why – there not the hard working men in the field they’re just women in a office according to him who like to bitch. it’s things like this that give the good unions a black eye. if the unions were strong and not just for them i would still be against this bill but now i’m for it because unions have lost their true meaning. thanks to 204

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