The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hoosiers workers mobilize against right-to-work

By The Building Tradesman

By Mark Gruenberg

PAI Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (PAI)—The Indiana AFL-CIO is mobilizing its forces – everything from lobbying lawmakers to door-to-door canvassing to running media ads – against a Republican scheme to make the Hoosier State a so-called “right to work” fiefdom.

But the GOP and its business backers may try to steal a march on workers and their allies.  They convened a joint hearing of state House and Senate labor committees on Jan. 6 to pass the bill and may try to ram it through the legislature immediately, before the opposition organizes.

If approved, the measure would make Indiana the 23rd state to adopt so-called “right to work” legislation, which bars unions from negotiating for contract provisions mandating that all covered workers pay dues.  The effect is to allow thousands of “free riders” gain the benefits unions bargain for, without paying the cost of bargaining.

The right-to-work push, in Indiana and elsewhere, is part of the nationwide war on workers launched in full force by the Radical Right, business and their political puppets after the Right Wing’s gains nationwide in the 2010 elections.

In Indiana, state lawmakers put right-to-work atop their to-do list for their new session.  The GOP controls the state assembly 60-40 and the state senate 37-13.

Retiring GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels told lawmakers last year to set right-to-work aside because its passage would threaten the rest of the Republicans’ anti-worker agenda, such as taxpayer-paid vouchers to let every student in the state attend private school.  This year, Daniels endorsed it and cut a TV campaign ad for right-to-work.

Now, both sides are running ads.  Business backers of right-to-work launched their ad blitz first, but the state fed and its allies, including Change To Win unions, are striking back, Indiana AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott and spokesman Jeff Harris say.

“Over the objections of working Hoosiers, against the advice of dozens of newspaper editorials and columns and despite the lack of facts and evidence to support their claims, the Republican leadership in the statehouse has made ramming through the so-called right to work bill their No. 1 priority in the 2012 legislative session,” Guyott said.  Every Indiana paper, save one, opposes right-to-work or says it should be stalled.

“Because they don’t have the facts or public sentiment on their side, they are now taking to the airwaves with a statewide television commercial in hopes deceiving Hoosiers about what this bill would really do,” Guyott adds.

The state AFL-CIO also launched its ground game, with hundreds of unionists fanning out in selected state districts to convince voters to call their lawmakers.  “We are focusing on increasing awareness of the issue,” Harris said in a telephone interview.

The fed picked districts where its own polling shows a majority of voters oppose right-to-work, but where the legislators either lean for it or are on the fence, he said.   It’s also mobilizing Indianans to lobby their lawmakers face-to face, as workers did a month ago on the day lawmakers met to organize themselves for the 2012 session.

“It would be a little hard for a state rep to look voters in the face and explain” why the rep would vote for right-to-work, Harris explained, with studies showing workers in right-to-work states earn less, have fewer benefits and work in more unsafe conditions.

And the fed’s hosting town hall meetings statewide where workers and their allies can explain the issue to their neighbors.

Daniels tried to lock the public out of the statehouse on the session’s opening day, Jan. 4, restricting admission to the building to 3,000 people.  Within 24 hours, public pressure forced a reversal.  “They may lock us out, but they won’t shut us up,” one blogger wrote on the state fed’s Facebook account.  When right-to-work arose last year, labor marshaled 75,000 people at the capitol over the 36-day legislative session.

In the air wars, another GOP ad features the Republican state house speaker touting right-to-work as a job creator, especially for veterans.  Data show that’s not true. “We can’t let the distortions and distractions go unanswered.  We must fight this corporate-backed message,” Guyott says.

The state fed was disappointed, but not surprised, that Daniels – a former top official in the anti-worker GOP Bush government in Washington – supports right-to-work.  Guyott calls it Daniels’ “political payback” to his business backers, since right-to-work is “designed to lower wages, reduce safety standards and weaken unions in an effort to increase corporate profit and power.”

She also noted Daniels cut the new TV ads without disclosing who’s paying for them.  Such disclosure is the least that he owes Hoosier families, Guyott added.  “By supporting this measure, Governor Daniels joins other extremists who seek to rob Hoosiers of their fundamental right to collectively bargain,” Guyott concludes.

An Economic Policy Institute analysis, released in early January, says right-to-work would cut an average Indianan worker’s pay – union or non-union – by $1,500 yearly, and reduce the likelihood of health care coverage and pensions.  The law also would have no impact on job growth, the study said.