- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Super Bowl Sunday is also shaping up as the kickoff for Indiana’s debut as the nation’s newest right-to-work state.

In a move being watched closely in a region long considered a stronghold for organized labor, the GOP-dominated state government is on the fast track to make Indiana the first state since Oklahoma more than a decade ago to adopt a measure curbing the bargaining power of unions.

Activists and Republican lawmakers in Michigan, Ohio and Minnesota have floated plans to adopt right-to-work statutes. Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker, whose pitched battles with public-sector unions have left him battling to keep his job in a recall election, said last week he would not be backing similar legislation - for now.

With the Indiana Senate poised to act on the bill as early as Wednesday, Gov. Mitch Daniels could sign it into law by the end of the week. Mr. Daniels warned state unions and their supporters that threats to continue their protests against the measure during the big game Sunday in Indianapolis would be a “colossal mistake.”

“It would reflect a real disregard for workers, who are supposed to be all of our concern. Thousands of people are earning money they wouldn’t otherwise earn because of the Super Bowl,” Mr. Daniels told reporters Monday.

Twenty-two states have right-to-work laws, which essentially allow workers to opt not to join their company’s union and forbid the union from collecting dues from workers who refuse to become members.

Supporters say the laws promote individual choice and improve the state’s overall business climate. Opponents say the laws are designed to undermine the bargaining clout and financial resources of labor unions and weaken the ability of workers to bargain for better pay and working conditions.

Labor supporters and opponents across the heavily unionized Midwest will be watching closely to see if Indiana’s move invigorates the state’s business climate - and forces its neighbors to respond in kind.

The results are unlikely to be felt overnight, said Timothy F. Slaper, a professor at Indiana University and director of economic analysis at the Indiana Business Research Center.

“The immediate effects are going to be marginal. We’re not going to see much by way of changes of employees and wages in the state,” he said. “One might expect in the coming years, one, two or three years out, we might see additional announcements for investment in the state. In subsequent years, we might see a slight bump in employment.”

He adds: “The governor has done a pretty good job at making the state, as he called it, ‘a better sandbox’ for conducting business. This is probably just moving us in the realm of building the best sandbox, if I may be political about it.”

Continuing fight

But the measure won’t go into effect without a messy public fight.

Democrats in the state legislature fled the Capitol earlier last month in an effort to block a vote on the measure. Members of the state’s AFL-CIO took to picket lines Friday at Super Bowl Village, set up in advance of the NFL’s biggest day, to air their grievances.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka suggested in a radio interview that the Super Bowl spectacle presented his members a ready-made opportunity to “exercise our First Amendment rights.”

“This isn’t about economic policy; this is about payback to political donors and corporate CEOs,” Mr. Trumka told WTLC-AM radio host Amos Brown. “It has nothing to do with job growth because it doesn’t create jobs whatsoever. It weakens the voice of working people and gives CEOs more power.”

Energized supporters

But right-to-work activists in nearby states say the success of the Indiana effort has energized their grass-roots efforts.

Already, such legislation is under consideration in the Michigan statehouse, and while Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has questioned the timing of the bill, he nonetheless has indicated that he is likely to sign it if it crosses his desk.

Free-market advocates and limited-government supporters will use Indiana’s example to move it to the front of their action lists, according to Paul Kersey, director of labor policy at Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

“They will have family and friends who go through Indiana and see what the conditions there are,” said Mr. Kersey, who said such legislation is “almost inevitable” for Michigan, in particular.

“It’s just a matter of when,” he said. “That’s where things are heading now.”

Said Jack Spencer, editor of the Michigan Capitol Confidential newsletter for the Mackinac Center, “The proof is in the pudding. It’s got to work.”

If Indiana’s competitors “are continuing to eat our lunch on the border, you are going to get pressure from businesses.”

As the Michigan governor treads carefully, however, the issue is not going away.

“The governor is being extremely careful about it, but it is an issue he’s being asked about it in forum after forum,” said Mackinac’s Mr. Kersey. “This isn’t something being pursued by a fringe group anymore. It’s a very mainstream issue now. It’s moving into the mainstream.”



Click to Read More

Click to Hide