[r88] Session Focus: Putting Hoosiers Back to Work (12/5/2011)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Start Date: 12/5/2011
End Date: 12/5/2011

With last week’s announcement that attracting more jobs to Indiana is the top priority for the upcoming session, folks on both sides of the worker freedom issue are speaking out.  Notwithstanding the rhetoric and scare tactics, it’s time for straight talk about making Indiana the 23rd Right to Work state in the nation. 

While Indiana ranks near the top on virtually every state ranking for job creation environment, the national malaise has kept our unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent.  Despite strict fiscal discipline and innovative job creation measures, some 275,000 Hoosiers who want work can’t find a job, and tens of thousands more are underemployed. The job prospects for young college graduates are dim, and nearly a quarter of returning veterans are without a job.  These are grim statistics.

After a summer study committee found that nearly half of all national employers specify “RTW states only” when considering their expansion opportunities, and after testimony from economic development experts that Indiana has lost substantial employment opportunities for the same reason, it’s time to move forward with a Hoosier Right to Work Act. 

The concept is simple – the proposal merely states that union membership or the required payment of union fees cannot be a condition of employment for Hoosier workers. Every employee has the freedom to choose whether they support a collective bargaining unit or not, and an employer’s labor agreement cannot provide otherwise.  That’s it. 

Despite scare tactics from some, unions aren’t “banned” or “destroyed” by RTW measures.  In fact, I was the author of identical protection for Indiana teachers in 1995, and their unions remain strong.  But they must be responsive to their members to keep them - that’s why half of all union households support RTW measures as well.

Most Hoosiers think this basic freedom already exists today – and it does in 22 other states - but not in Indiana.  In Indiana an employer can enter into a labor agreement that requires a worker to either belong to the union or pay union fees as a condition of getting or keeping a job.  When I explained this to a friend, he asked “Did we lose a war I didn’t hear about or something?”  Of course he was joking, but his point was made: freedom to support an organization – or not – is a basic American right.

Detractors call this proposal “Right to Work for Less” and point to studies that conclude wages are lower in RTW states; but these studies are flawed – they don’t adjust for the cost of living in those states to measure the real purchasing power of a worker’s dollar.  When they do, the average weekly wage for workers in RTW states is higher.  But the benefits don’t end there.

Over the past 20 years, private sector job growth and personal income grew higher and faster in RTW states than in non-RTW states, and unemployment rates are lower on average as well. 

And nothing trumps the testimony of economic development experts who tell us that Indiana has missed multiple opportunities that represent thousands of high paying jobs and billions of dollars in capital investment because employers specified “RTW states only.”  How can we turn these employers away with nearly 275,000 Hoosiers out of work?

This session we will have a civil conversation about attracting more employers to Indiana, even if some with interests to protect try to shout us down, or some legislative participants make themselves scarce.  Democracy depends on open and honest debate – and votes on tough issues – even if we disagree.

2012 Session RTW Indy Star.docx