INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana, thanks to its GOP legislature and flip-flopping GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels, became the nation’s 23rd “Right to Work” state – and the first in the North – on Feb. 1. Union leaders blasted the legislation, and predicted it’ll boomerang at the ballot box this fall.

The law, jammed through the legislature on party-line votes, deprives unions of the right to mandate collection of dues, or even “fair share” fees in contracts with employers. That will let thousands of “free riders” take advantage of unions’ services without paying one thin dime for them.

The practical effect is to rob unions of money needed to represent workers. But right-to-work laws have been a cause of the radical Right for more than 60 years – as a way to destroy unions and reduce their ability to gain better livelihoods for workers.

The radical right, its business backers, and its GOP handmaidens push right to work as part of their nationwide war on workers. Minnesota is also a right-to-work target.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka led the unionists in saying right to work will hurt Indiana workers – who will remember in November.

Right to work “reflects an extreme partisan agenda that is all about payback to corporate donors, instead of creating good jobs for working families and fostering a middle-class economy,” he said. “‘Right to work’ policies don’t create jobs. Study after study has shown they reduce wages, benefits, and safety for all working people — the last thing anyone needs in this economy.

“Working people are energized and will remember who stood with them and who stood with the one percent on Election Day,” he concluded.

Indiana AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott said her state tried right to work once before, from 1957-65 and “it was an utter failure.” She predicted a repeat and added Hoosiers will exact retribution when they vote in November.

“I am reminded of the saying, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,’ and it seems especially fitting today,” she said. “Hoosiers have been here before” and after the prior failure, voters “rose up, changed elected officials and repealed it. It appears we are headed there again.

“Sadly, passage not only means that workers’ rights and ability to collectively bargain will be significantly weakened, it means strong-arm tactics, misinformation, and big money have won at the Indiana statehouse,” Guyott added, reminding voters that Daniels and the GOP denied workers from testifying against it and barred people from the state capitol during passage.

Steelworkers District 7 Director Jim Robinson declared the out-of-state special interests pushing right-to-work won this fight, “but we’ll win the war.”

“The General Assembly set Indiana on a course that will lead to lower wages, less safety on the job and more — and we need to ensure our locals are as strong as possible to ensure they don’t get their way,” added Robinson. “This is just one part of the larger attack on working families in our country. We didn’t win this fight, but we’ll win the war. Hoosiers won’t settle for a government where corporate-backed lawmakers do the bidding of the one percent. Our state is better than that; our country is better than that. Our fight doesn’t end here – not by a long shot.”

“Let’s be clear about the fundamental underpinnings of this issue,” said AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Mark Ayers. “Contrary to what right-to-work proponents would have the public believe, this was not about creating an inviting economic atmosphere that would attract businesses to Indiana. Rather, this effort — just like recent efforts to limit collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and Ohio — was first and foremost about political power.”

After citing an Indiana building trades report showing the negative impact of right-to-work laws elsewhere, Ayers said “misinformation and special interest money may have carried the day today, but the fight is far from over.” Indiana workers and those elsewhere “will not be silenced. Indeed, the sleeping giant that is the American middle class has been awakened.

Teachers President Randi Weingarten added that right to work “will increase economic pain and uncertainty” for Indiana workers, at the wrong time, in a recession.

Daniels and the GOP lawmakers responded to “mean-spirited and irresponsible” corporate attacks on workers, Weingarten said.

“This debate crystallized who is on the side of working people. In the legislature, every Democratic senator and nine courageous Republican senators voted ‘no,’ plus the House Democrats earlier walked out in an attempt to stop this harmful bill.” Those lawmakers “demonstrated their willingness to stand up against this corporate-backed attack” on workers, she concluded.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.