Republican lawmakers in Indiana on November 21 announced that when the next session of state legislature convenes in January, they will introduce legislation designed to lower wages. They also said that they would make this legislation their priority for the coming session. The next day, about 2,000 union members and their supporters responded by occupying the Indiana statehouse for a day.
“Union members in Ohio, Wisconsin, and elsewhere are standing up and fighting back,” said Jim Robinson United Steelworkers District 7 director. “We’re ready for this fight in Indiana, and we’ll keep coming back to the statehouse until they get the message that we will not back down or go away.”
Indiana Senate Pro Tem David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma said that so-called right-to-work legislation would be introduced early in the up coming legislative session, and they as leaders of the Senate and House would do everything the could to see that this legislation passes.
Right-to-work laws, which are on the books in 22 states, don’t guarantee jobs as the name implies, but they do make it harder for workers to form unions and bargain collectively for fair wages and benefits, which in turn drives down wages for all workers.
A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute, demonstrates the impact that right-to-work laws have on wages. According to the report, wages in the 22 states that have right-to-work laws are 3.2 percent lower than wages for comparable work in non-right-to-work state. To calculate this percentage, the report’s authors controlled for other factors that might affect the outcome, such as differences in the cost of living among states.
The report also says that the average full-time, full-year worker in right-to-work states makes about $1,500 less annually than a similar worker in a non-right-to-work state. Furthermore, workers in right to work states are less likely to have employer sponsored health care and pension benefits.
Proponents of right-to-work laws claim that these laws lead to economic growth and create jobs. House Speaker Bosma when speaking in favor of the proposed law said that it will, “remove (Indiana’s) last barrier to job creation.” What Speaker Bosma presumably means by “last barrier to job creation” is the power of unions to bargain collectively for fair wages.
But as it turns out, right-to-work laws are not the job generators that their supporters claim. The US Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that Georgia, a right-to-work state, lost 33,300 jobs between October 2010 and October 2011, by far the most of any state in the US.
The most recent state employment statistics issued by the BLS show that right-to-work states don’t have any lower unemployment rates than other states. Of the ten states with the highest unemployment rates, six–Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and South Carolina–are right-to-work states. The state with the highest unemployment rate at 13.4 percent is right-to-work state Nevada.
Last year, Republican lawmakers in Indiana tried to pass right-to-work legislation, but after union members and their supporters demonstrated their strength through rallies, demonstrations, and marches, Democratic lawmakers threw their support behind the unions. When a vote on the bill was scheduled to take place, Democratic lawmakers left the state to prevent a quorum. Republicans eventually backed down.
Republicans argue that the proposed right-to-work law is about a worker’s freedom to choose whether to belong to a union. But Nancy Guyott, Indiana AFL-CIO president, said that workers already have this right, and it’s guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act.
“In reality, this legislation isn’t about giving (Indiana) workers and employers more freedom, it is about taking away existing freedoms and choices,” Guyott said. “If passed, this bill would restrict a private business’ ability to freely enter into an agreement with a union. And, it forces organized labor to represent workers who refuse to pay for services, thus severely depleting their ability to effectively represent dues paying members in fights for better wages, working conditions and needed safety precautions.”
Guyott also said that right-to-work laws are aimed at busting unions and “eliminating the last group of people standing in the way of unfettered corporate control.”