An Excessive Government Regulation on Business Wins in Indiana: 'Right-to-Work'

The state of Indiana has just enacted a government regulation on business that business seems to love – ‘right to work’.  A ‘Right to Work’ law forbids a business and a labor organization from signing a contract that requires all employees to join the union as a condition of their employment.  Indiana businesses will still be permitted to establish whatever rules they prefer for their employees when it comes to uniforms, tattoos, smoking, and the like – but not when it comes to union membership.

Ordinarily, in America, we let two contracting parties agree to whatever terms they like, unless they are conspiring to commit a serious injustice. The government intervenes to prevent employers from discriminating on the basis of race, religion and gender, for instance. It’s hard for me, at least, to see how ‘not wanting to pay union dues when a majority of my coworkers have voted for union representation’ is equivalent to any of these. It’s not an immutable characteristic like race and gender, and I suspect few would argue that it is comparable in depth and gravity to a religious commitment. One might contend that since unions sometimes participate in political action, an obligation to pay union dues might mean forcing an individual to support viewpoints they oppose. However, the law already empowers union members to demand rebates of the portion of dues used in political activity.


Unlike collective bargaining, Catholic Social Teaching does not express an explicit position on ‘right to work.’ What’s more remarkable to me is the position taken by business leaders and others who seem to object to every regulation of business practices except this one – here they call upon government to tell them they can’t do something. As a practical matter, right-to-work makes it very difficult for unions to exist, since individuals can enjoy the wages and benefits negotiated by unions without paying for them. (If Indiana required McDonald’s to give away free hamburgers to those who asked, how long would the paying customers continue paying? I suspect in such a case the Golden Arches wouldn’t be long for this world.) I have to wonder if weakening unions, rather than protecting individual rights, is the real motivation behind ‘right to work’ campaigns.


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Vince Killoran
6 years 10 months ago
Here's a shock Joe: I don't find my argument weak at all.

If you are working in an organized shop and want to de-certify the union you can collect signatures, petition the appropriate labor relations board, etc.

BTW, labor law is so fundamentally broken that workers who want a union and vote for it-in the face of employer hostility, weak fines, etc.-are frustrated in getting their first contract by intransigent employers who face few penalties. Now that's undemocractic.
Stan Greer
6 years 10 months ago
Mr. Sinyai claims it is ''excessive regulation'' when government policy prohibits contracts forcing union nonmembers to pay dues or fees to a union as a condition of employment.  Let's call that ''Regulation A.''

But federal policy already prohibits contracts forbidding employees to join a union.  It also prohibits contracts allowing employees to join a union, but barring them from financially supporting that union.  Let's call that ''Regulation B.''

Does Mr. Sinyai think ''Regulation B'' is ''excessive''?  If he does, why not say so?  If he doesn't, why does he think ''Regulation A'' is ''excessive''?  There is no principled reason for considering one of these regulations to be excessive, but the other one to be normal and acceptable.

Stan Greer
National Right to Work Committee
National Institute for Labor Relations Research
Katherine Lawrence
6 years 10 months ago
People should be free to join unions and free not to join unions. Forcing people to join a union if they work for a particular company is as unfair as forbidding people to unionize. Having seen first hand the corruption that ensues when a. Business as all power and b. union has all power, I feel the right to work law is just. 

It,s not a perfect solution,but unions are equally corrupted by power as are corporations. I don't want to join a union. I have a right to work at any company wanting to hire me. If you don't think unions are corrupt, examine k-12 education in new orleans
Michael Gent
6 years 10 months ago
U.S. labor law is set up so that if workers in a business unit (say production workers in a plant, or nurses in a hospital) seek to be represented by a union, and if they win a government-supervised election, their union is then required, by law, to represent every employee in the unit, whether they voted for the union and want to be a member, or not.  It makes sense, then, that the union would want and expect every unit employee to join.  By so doing every employee could vote in union officer elections and vote  whether to accept or reject a negotiated contract.  By joining they would also bear their fair share of the expenses associated with union representation and collective bargaining.  This is how democracies work; and it's no different than expecting every citizen to exercise their francise and, even if they choose not to, to require them to pay taxes.  ''Right to work'' laws are designed to make it easier for employers, under American labor law, to keep their employees from getting and maintaining a strong union.
Joshua DeCuir
6 years 10 months ago
"As a practical matter, right-to-work makes it very difficult for unions to exist, since individuals can enjoy the wages and benefits negotiated by unions without paying for them."

BINGO! Indiana has seen the facts: thousands of good paying jobs being opened nearly-monthly here in the right-to-work Deep South by companies such as Mercedes-Benz (Alabama), BMW (South Carolina), Honda, Boeing (South Carolina) and many, many more.  Not only are these manufacturing jobs - they pay more, have better benefits and the workers report higher satisfaction - mostly without unions.  Right-to-work laws recognize the important fact that union-fundamentalists like to ignore: the union fat-cats who line their pockets and buy political candidates willing to do their beck and call have overreached for years to the detriment of the common good!  Right-to-work restores the balance, and protects workers, most importantly.
C Walter Mattingly
6 years 10 months ago
Somehow, offering an employee a choice as to whether or not he wishes to pay union dues seems primarily an issue of protecting the employee's choice moreso than anything else. Too, the article treats of the potential injustice of an employee's dues being used for political purposes the emoloyee doesn't support, but then notes that the employee has the legal right to demand a rebate of any such dues as a justification. This is akin to saying that it is ok by the government if someone lifts a bill from your wallet, but you in return have the right to demand that money back. Just doesn't properly redress the injustice, does it? That employee now has the right to evaluate on his own to determine if his monies are used properly and to make his own call on the dues issue. If he determines it's not worth it, doesn't this indicate that the union is not offering good value to those it claims to serve?
It is informative to see the measured nature of Gov Daniels' statement on this ruling, something that could well serve as a lesson to the anomie we constantly see on both sides. It is refreshing to see the courtesy one would wish in government so well exemplified in his words.
Finally, the Rust Belt is so known because of all the idle factories that have sprung up in the last few generations in these (former?) union strongholds. As Josh points out, Indiana, under the leadership of Gov Daniels, has just oiled the machinery of commerce. Now we can see if this machinery begins to hum again, serving as an example to other states in the Midwest.
6 years 10 months ago
I believe that the argument that it is not fair for a few freeloaders to get the benefits paid for by the majority happy members is a bit of a straw man argument.
Unions really do not fear a few holdouts when overwhelming numbers support and pay dues. A few of the teamsters will have ''a little talk'' with the offending party and they will be sufficiently ''convinced''. In more professional unions like teachers, they would never do such a thing. They instead blackball and encourage ignoring the offending teacher.
Nope - what the unions fear is mass desertion. 
If you want to see real mass panic in the streets, get rid of the check off (‘check off’- for those who are unaware -  is where the employer is required to take the dues from the employee’s pay as a condition of employment and then remit to the union. It assures 100% collections) 
I am convinced that for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth in Wisconsin, it was the elimination of the check off as a requirement that is the real reason for the various riots, recall votes, etc in that state.
Helen Deines
6 years 10 months ago
Mr. Cleary describes union members as if they we thugs or bullies.  Perhaps that is true of a few (as it is of a few managers), but I wonder whether he knows his history of labor and the Catholic Church.

My father, now deceased, was a labor organizer for the Railway Brotherhoods and an active part of the Catholic labor movement in California.  Like Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, the Catholic labor movement saw Catholicism as a "third way" that moderated the extreme greed of capitalism gone wild with the state domination of socialism and communism.  The Catholic labor movement honored and still honors the dignity of the human person and emphasizes the virtue of solidarity, all of us standing together caring for each other.

I am always surprised that way those who choose not to pay union dues, not to join hands with their fellow workers, never refuse the benefits the union negotiates.  That's why those few are called "free riders."  

If they refused the benefits negotiated by the union, then I would believe they made their non-joining decision as a principled stance.
My very Catholic father and mother raised me to appreciate the value of hard work and the way it contributes to the common good, not just individual wealth.  Organized labor still brings us, if we work to maintain it, worker safety, a weekend with our families, protections for child workers, and fair wages and benefits. 

If organized labor over-reaches, only its members can hold it to account. 
J Cosgrove
6 years 10 months ago
Ms. Deines,

''If organized labor over-reaches, only its members can hold it to account. ''

They do it constantly and have put the country and many jurisdictions in extreme stress because of their greed.  You mention the extreme greed of capitalism but it is the extreme greed of unions, not all, but mainly public employee unions which are now causing havoc across much of America.   Let me give you an example, that I know of personally which I understand is common across the country.

Teachers are being let go in several areas of the country.  These are tenured teachers as their positions are being eliminated because of budget considerations.  At the same time as these tenured teachers are being let go, their former colleagues are getting raises.  I personally know one of these teachers who lost her job and had 15 years experience (but only 5 years in the particular school district) as her fellow teachers who had more seniority but less experience got raises..  And in district after district these teachers are often making salaries that average twice what the non public employee is making in the same area.  In Wisconsin, the average private worker was making about $50,000 a year while the average teacher in Milwaukee was making $100,000 a year.  In my areas many of the teachers average over $110,000 a year and that does not include retirement benefits.

So the days of sweat shops, 60 hour weeks, child labor, extremely hazardous working conditions etc. are long gone but the unions live on and keep on pressing for more. (this does not say that certain occupations are not extremely hazardous and unions are still useful in addressing problems here) In the public sector there are no grievances of note other than they took away their monopolistic bargaining rights which they used to extort and bribe politicians to give them much higher salaries and easier working conditions then the private sector.

Mr. Sinyai who writes these OP's here on labor issues uses this rhetorical trick all the time.  He knows they are not valid anymore but he is playing on images of long gone situations to defend union practices.  Hardly, what I would call Catholic or Christian justice.

Also it can be shown that union activity actually creates move poverty.  Seems a contradiction in terms but for every benefit, wage increase, work restriction someone else loses out as the resources of society or the company can not be used for more employees so a large percentage go unemployed to fund these union benefits.  It was one of the causes of the Great Depression as business was told to keep employee wages high and then unions enforced these high wages and the net result was lots of others unemployed.  So if you are one of the lucky ones to be in the union shop and have seniority, it can be very good but for the unlucky ones not in this situation, it can mean long bouts of poverty.  That is what happened in the 1930's and what is happening with public employee unions today.
Vince Killoran
6 years 10 months ago
Helen's comments are spot on.

"Open shop" is anti-democratic because it thwarts the election process, e.g., we all vote for our president but because I don't like who was elected I cannot claim that this person is not president.

Don't like the results? Get enough support in the next election.
6 years 10 months ago

Ms. Deines:
I do not proclaim to be an expert but I am more aware of labor history- and Catholic labor history then you might imagine.
My comments are made as an observer of the current situation and are not a reflection of the history of the labor movement 50 or even 100 years ago. Many of the union achievements of yesteryear (worker safety, work week, child safety rules, overtime rules) were codified decades ago. They apply to everyone. They may not exist but for the work of labor unions at that time. But unlike the editorials of AMERCIA magazine and opinion writers like Clayton – I cannot give the labor movement a free pass on how they operate today because of the improvements implemented 50 years ago or the actions of groups like Catholic Worker.
The intimidation and blackballing I wrote about really do happen Helen and sadly it is not rare in the workplace.
Helen – perhaps you would agree that those who do not pay dues should not get representation, not be in the union run benefit plans, salary scales, etc. Actually – if this was allowed this would be a fair outcome and those employees who refuse to contribute to the union would take their chances with the non union wage rates, benefit plans, profit sharing plans, ‘ at will’ employment.  Would a union ( or labor law) permit such an outcome I do not know.
Very few current union workers members voted to organize the union (most joined already organized companies and membership was a requirement to work), and I am unaware of any who specifically vote for a “ closed shop”- so I find Vince’s argument a bit weak. I would agree that if the actual workers today voted for the union and a voted for a closed shop then they should all pay the dues they voted to implement. Let them renew the certification and closed shop say every 10 years or so to insure the newer workers agree. I do not know many unions who would want to take a chance on such a vote.


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