Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has an unearned reputation as a moderate. But when he wanted to strip the collective bargaining rights from public employees, years before Scott Walker of John Kasich got the idea, he didn’t even bother with the legislative process, he signed an executive order. And it had the desired effect in Indiana, where public employee union membership plummeted. During the labor protests of early 2011, Indiana Democrats walked out of the state, denying the legislature a quorum, to protest several bills, among them an education voucher law and legislation making Indiana a “right-to-work” state. Daniels immediately disavowed the latter bill, saying it wasn’t something he wanted to take up. That was when he was considering running for President. Now that’s over, and Daniels, going back on his earlier word, supports the right-to-work legislation.
Nearly a year after legislatures in Wisconsin and several other Republican-dominated states curbed the power of public sector unions, lawmakers are now turning their sights toward private sector unions, setting up what is sure to be another political storm.
The thunderclouds are gathering first here in Indiana. The leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature say that when the legislative session opens on Wednesday, their No. 1 priority will be to push through a business-friendly piece of legislation known as a right-to-work law.
Right-to-work laws prohibit union contracts at private sector workplaces from requiring employees to pay any dues or other fees to the union. In states without such laws, workers at unionized workplaces generally have to pay such dues or fees.
Many right-to-work supporters say it is morally wrong to force unwilling workers to contribute to unions, while opponents argue that it is wrong to allow “free riders” not to support the unions that represent them in negotiations and arbitrations.
“Right to work” or “open shop” laws have been fought and debated since the beginning of the labor movement. Currently 22 states, almost all of them in the South and West, have right to work laws. New Hampshire passed one last year, but Democratic Governor John Lynch vetoed it and the legislature could not override him. You should really call them “right to work for less” laws, because they diminish the bargaining power of labor, empower management, and lead to wage cuts. Studies have shown that workers in right to work states make at least $1,500 and as much as $5,500 less for the same job than workers in states without those restrictions. And it’s designed to starve a union of revenue by creating a free rider problem, eventually dissolving the union entirely. First Daniels busted the public unions; now he wants to bust the private ones.
Labor leaders in Indiana plan to use many of the same tactics that delayed anti-union laws in Wisconsin and Ohio and stopped right to work in Indiana. They are already on the air with a law telling the truth about right to work. But it would probably come down to having Democrats leave the state and deny a quorum again. Daniels is supportive of the legislation this time, going back completely on his view from last year, and Republicans have large majorities in both houses of the legislature. Democrats could walk out, raise awareness about the law (which polls show a lot of flexibility on) and rally opposition, like they did in other states in the Midwest last year, including Indiana. Ultimately, this was successful in Indiana last year, so we’ll see how it goes.