The growing war between big labor and state governments flared on another front in the center of America yesterday, as the battle lines spread from Wisconsin to Indiana, where a Republican sponsored right to work bill moved forward. In an eight to five party-line vote, the bill passed through the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee. It will now be considered by the entire Indiana House, where Republicans outnumber Democrats by sixty seats to forty. Union leaders and their allies on the left are pushing back as hard as they can in Indianapolis as they are in Madison, working to portray this legislation as just another “assault on the working man” designed to line the pockets of modern-day robber barons. That line of messaging has been big labor’s most effective public relations strategy for decades, because it played to America’s instinctive propensity to root for the underdog. Yet, developments in Indiana are further evidence that more and more people believe that too many labor unions aren’t fighting “the man” any longer; the powerful unions have instead become the man.
Reform in New Jersey and on-going attempts at reform in Wisconsin have been limited to public sector unions. Indiana represents another step in the process, this time dipping into the private sector. Twenty two states currently carry right to work laws on their books, all of which are in the south or lie to the west of the Mississippi. If Indiana joins the club, it will be the first industrial rust-belt state to do so, a move that would put a good deal of pressure on its neighbors. The Midwest’s other traditional industrial powers – Ohio, Michigan and Illinois – have been struggling economically for a while, hemorrhaging both employers and jobs at alarming rates, even factoring in the recession. A right to work state smack in the middle of the three would undoubtedly increase the bleeding and force each to consider making a similar move, or see the rate of decay accelerate as Indiana prospered. It’s all well and good to declare that you’re for the working man, but that message isn’t going to resonate for long in a state where there’s no work to be had.
Advocates of forced-unionism argue that right to work laws are designed to line the pockets of evil corporations by picking the pockets of workers. That argument may have contained elements of truth during the hey-day of J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller (and there is a good deal of disagreement among historians about how bad the so-called robber-barons actually were), but it’s hardly a relevant representation in 21st century America. By any measurable standard, workers make more money, live better, have more employment opportunities and are happier in right to work states than they are in forced-unionism states. The supposed benefits of forced-unionism for workers are wholly theoretical. The only group that actually benefits from forced-unionism is union leadership. In an editorial published on February 3, the Wall Street Journal outlined the case for right to work laws:
A new study in the Cato Journal by economist Richard Vedder finds that from 2000 to 2008 some 4.7 million Americans moved from forced-union to right-to-work states. The study also found that from 1977 through 2007 there was “a very strong and highly statistically significant relationship between right-to-work laws and economic growth.” Right-to-work states experienced a 23% faster rise in per capita income over that period. The two regions that have lost the most jobs in recent years, the once-industrial Northeast and Midwest, are mostly forced-union states.
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