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'Right to Work' Bill Passes in Indiana House

Unions prepare for similar battles in other states

Common Dreams staff

On Wednesday the Indiana House voted 54-44 to pass the controversial "right to work" bill, nearly ensuring the state will become the 23rd to have such a law.

The bill prohibits unions from collecting dues from non-union members or from requiring union membership.

Dean Baker notes how this is bad for all workers, not just union members:

...a union is legally obligated to represent all the workers in a bargaining unit, regardless of whether a worker has opted to join the union.

This means that non-members not only get the same wages and benefits that the union gets for its members, they also are entitled to the union's protection in the event of disputes with the employer. Most states allow workers to sign contracts that require non-union members to pay for the benefits they receive from the union.

The bill passed by Indiana's legislature prohibits unions and employers from signing this sort of contract. Instead, it requires unions to provide free representation to non-members.

Writing for The Nation, Gordon Lafer explains:

Twenty-two states, predominantly in the old Confederacy, already have “right to work” laws—mostly dating from the McCarthy era. “Right to work” (RTW) does not guarantee anyone a job. Rather, it makes it illegal for unions to require that each employee who benefits from the terms of a contract pay his or her share of the costs of administering it. By making it harder for workers’ organizations to sustain themselves financially, RTW aims to undermine unions’ bargaining strength and eventually render them extinct.

As the Associated Press reports, Indiana Democrats had been fighting the legislation, occasionally staging boycotts so that the House couldn't meet quorum.

The Chicago Tribune reports:

Labor union members packed the Indiana Capitol this week, first to watch a partisan debate over the legislation, then to show support for Democratic lawmakers who staged a walkout to stall it. The state's debate was the latest battle between economic ideologies defined by the national tea party and Occupy movements.

The end of protests is nowhere in sight, however. The Indianapolis Star reports:

But the "right to work" vote does not mean an end to the protests. From the day the legislative session began Jan. 4, labor union members have jammed Statehouse hallways outside the House and Senate. Wednesday -- after Democrats demanded that the House doors separating lawmakers from that hallway be thrown open -- their shouts reverberated through the chamber, at times drowning out debate with chants of "you lie!" and "kill the bill!"

Rick Vitatoe, a 48-year-old Bluffton glass workers union member, said afterward that the fight is not done.

"We'll fight it over in the Senate. If we lose, we'll fight it at the ballot polls this November," he said. "It's a race toward the bottom is what it is. I'm from Tennessee and been up here 26 years. I came up here because Tennessee's a 'right to work' state. When there's $5,000 difference in total wages and benefits from a 'right to work' state to a non-'right to work' state, these Republicans, they need their head examined. It's completely crazy to lower someone's wages."

As the New York Times reports, other states may be inspired by the passage in Indiana:

“I’m disappointed that they beat us to this one,” Mike Shirkey, a Republican state representative from Michigan, said of Indiana, adding that he hoped a similar measure might soon be debated in Michigan. “Now a border state is going to establish a leverage position in being attractive to businesses.”

Union organizers, who had mobilized scores of supporters to chant in protest from the halls in the Indiana Statehouse, said Indiana’s fight had left them girding for battles in other capitals.

“They’re not going to stop in Indiana,” Brian Buhle, secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters Local 135 in Indianapolis, said after the vote. “And there’s certainly going to be a national effort on behalf of all of national labor to try to stop it from spreading to other states in the Midwest.”

Indiana's News 8 has video:


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