At the same time that Indianapolis is making big preparations for its first Super Bowl on February 5th, a defining issue of this year’s debate over the role of labor unions in the American workforce is being played out in Indiana where the legislature is considering making the state a right to work state.
Indiana State Republicans are pushing for Indiana to become the first state in more than a decade to approve right-to-work legislation. The last state to enact a right-to-work law was Oklahoma in 2001.
Supporters say the measure would bring more jobs to Indiana, where unemployment has crept up to around 9 percent. Also, many Indiana companies want right-to-work because the new law would make it illegal for businesses and unions to negotiate contracts that require all employees — even those who do not wish to be union members — to pay union fees as a condition of their employment. At the same time, opponents of the new law say that it is focused on breaking unions and call it “right-to-work for less” because they believe it would weaken unions and ultimately drive down average wages.
Right-to-Work laws are enforced in 22 U.S. states, mostly of which are located either in the southern or western U.S. These laws, provided under the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 prohibit agreements between labor unions and employers that make membership and payment of union dues a condition of employment either before or after hiring.
Prior to the adoption of the Taft-Hartley Act by Congress over President Harry S. Truman’s veto in 1947, unions and employers were covered by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and could lawfully agree to a closed shop, in which employees at unionized workplaces were required to be members of the union as a condition of employment. Under the NLRA, prior to Taft-Hartley, an employee who ceased being a member of the union for whatever reason, from failure to pay dues to expulsion from the union as an internal disciplinary punishment, could also be fired even if the employee did not violate any of the employer’s rules. With Taft-Hartley adoption in 1947, individual U.S. states became authorized to outlaw the union and agency shops within their jurisdictions.
If the new legislation passes, Indiana would become the 23rd state to approve a right-to-work law. A victory would provide national conservatives and business groups a major win on an issue that has recently eluded them elsewhere. It also would deal another blow to organized labor, which has seen mixed results in its fight against initiatives to curb union rights nationwide that followed the Republican victories in 2010. 01.23.2012