Monday, January 09, 2012

Right to Work for Less Not Right for Indiana

Right to Work for Less Not Right for Indiana

January 09, 2012

This article was penned by Allen County Democratic Party Executive Director Jack Morris:

There have recently been articles concerning legislation called “right-to-work” (RTW). Articles in favor of this legislation provided unsubstantiated claims and misleading information. They contend it is more difficult to attract businesses to Indiana without this legislation. These claims are not consistent with actual facts. At the end of this article I list numerous sources anyone can read to learn real facts. A fair review of the facts, as opposed to unsupported claims, demonstrates RTW legislation is not in the best interest of Indiana or its workers.

At the outset I acknowledge the right of those who advocate for RTW legislation. We need a full and complete discussion of any topic. However, we should look facts in support of each view and not rest upon bare assertion without verifiable facts. A review of the facts related to RTW legislation causes me to oppose this legislation.

Before an informed discussion on RT, it is appropriate to address the name. This legislation does not create any job or the right to any job. Further, the ‘right’ which it confers carries significant negative consequences with far reaching impact on the ability of a worker to obtain a job with a living wage (a wage which enables the worker to support his or her self and a family). These consequences lead opponents of RTW legislation to label this legislation as ‘right to work for less.’ In 2001, Monsignor Higgins the former director of the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference and longtime advisor to the U.S. Catholic Bishops on labor and civil rights, poverty, and religious tolerance pointed out that the “pressure for [right-to-work] legislation does not arise from workers seeking their ‘rights.’ Proponents are uniformly employers’ organizations and related groups.” He argued right-to-work laws “do not provide jobs for workers; they merely prevent workers from building strong, stable unions” (Higgins, 2001).

State Representative Win Moses addressing a town hall meeting on the "Right to Work" legislation.

Under U.S. labor law, workers already have specific rights. A worker does not have to join a union or pay costs of a union's political, legislative, social or charitable activities. A worker can refuse to join a union and still work for a company where a union exists. The worker only has to pay the cost of the collective bargaining and other activities which provide direct support to all workers. This is like any association designed to benefit all members. For example, homeowners are forced to pay the costs of a homeowners association even if they do not want the benefits from the activities the association carries out. A homeowners association can put a lien on a residents home if the dues are not paid. The RTW law would allow individuals to work at a job with all the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement without having to contribute to the cost of those benefits. In the context of a homeowner association this would be like allowing the homeowner to use the association pool, clubhouse, parks, security service, etc. without paying their fair share. No one can be forced to move into a neighborhood with an association; but, if they move in, knowing there is an association with benefits and a cost, they should pay their fair share. Likewise, a worker who chooses to work at a job covered by a collective bargaining agreement which assures certain rights for the workers should expect to pay a fair share of the costs of obtaining and maintaining those rights.

RTW laws are really government interference with the rights of workers and employers to enter into a contract. RTW laws allow a person who benefits by the contract to avoid paying the costs of obtaining the benefits gained by the contract. Clearly this approach weakens the worker side of the contractual bargain to the benefit of the employer. In the absence of organized labor there would be no contract between the employer and the worker. Indiana is an employment at will state, an employer does not need a reason to fire an employee. An individual employee has minimal bargaining position to obtain higher wages, safe work conditions or benefits such as health insurance. These are among the unfair treatment which led to workers becoming organized in unions; to allow negotiations for fair wages, benefits and safe work conditions.

The result of passage of RTW laws in some states was the creation of two competing labor climates within the United States, one (primarily in the Northeast, the Midwest, and on the West Coast) permitted “fair share” representation clauses in contracts and thus encouraged stable unions, higher wages, and better benefits for workers, the other (largely in the South and the Great Plains) outlawed “fair share” agreements through RTW legislation and inhibited the growth of unions and their positive effects for workers.

Two independent studies, one by the Indiana University Division of Labor Studies in January, 2006 and a March 2011 report from the Higgins Labor Studies Program from the University of Notre Dame researched the facts related to RTW legislation. Each of these studies document there is no support for the claim that RTW legislation helps economic development; and, there is clear documentation that workers in states with RTW laws make less income and receive less benefits. Further, review of their research demonstrates RTW legislation is actually harmful to the overall economy of a state and would be harmful for Indiana.

The Indiana and Notre Dame research refutes the claims that RTW legislation attracts businesses to a state. Further, The Work Environment Index (WEI), constructed by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts, ranked states in terms of working conditions. They found states with good working conditions (Including wages, benefits, safe working conditions, and good community resources) provide an attractive economic climate for business; not RTW laws.

The Indiana University study concluded adoption of a RTW law would be a fundamental step backward for Indiana and described RTW as nothing more than anti-union strategy disguised as economic development legislation. The study asserts Indiana and other states cannot win by joining the race to the bottom in terms of wages and working conditions.

Mayor Tom Henry addresses the crowd at the Fort Wayne "Right to Work" Town Hall

‘Right-to-work’ laws are an attempt to limit the capacity of unions to negotiate and even to survive. These laws threaten family values by lowering family incomes and reducing other benefits such as medical insurance. These results of RTW laws are in clear conflict with faith based teaching on the dignity of workers and have a negative impact on family values. As the U.S. Catholics Bishops wrote in Economic Justice for All, “No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself” (U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986).The Wage Penalty of "Right-to-Work" Laws by Lawrence Mishel, found that the mean effect of working in a right -to-work state results in a 6% to 8% reduction in wages for workers in these states, with an average wage penalty of 6.5%.

True economic development is the process of increasing opportunities and living standards for allresidents of an area. The claimed economic growth to be accomplished by the advocates of RTW does not address how ‘growth’ is distributed. The facts comparing wages in RTW to non-RTW demonstrate worker wages and benefits are lower in the RTW states. Real economic development is not compatible with falling wages and benefits for workers. Our present economic downturn is evidence of what happens when income disparity grows with workers suffering reduced incomes while prices continue to rise. Our working class drives our economy. The presence of unions raised wages for all workers, including non-union jobs and produced a middle and upper-middle class which became the core to our economy and our tax base. Unfortunately, as the disparity of wealth has grown, middle and upper middle class workers have lost ground under the fiction of economic development. Wages have stagnated or dropped. The tax base has also dropped without any increase upon those at the top thereby putting economic pressure on governments resulting in reduced benefits for the unemployed and underemployed (Those making lower pay that what their past experience and education would have paid and thus below their prior budgeted income.) Passing RTW legislation would increase this downward trend increasing the financial strain on our workers and their families.

The facts dictate rejection of RTW laws for Indiana. We have a great state with tremendous reasons for businesses to locate here. We, and most importantly our leaders, should sell the positive reasons for businesses to relocate here. Promoting economic development by RTW legislation is simply bidding to lower the rights of Indiana workers to gain employers who clearly do not value their workers. Indiana can do better. Economic development should occur by us selling the benefits of Indiana and not by selling out our working families. Call your government representatives and urge them to not sell out our working families and tell them to vote NO on right to work legislation.


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Jack Morris

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