Monday, November 21, 2011

Right-To-Work Legislation Ensures A Hot Session Next Year

House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long officially proclaimed that passage of right-to-work legislation will be the top legislative priority next year for the Republican-controlled legislature. Last year, House Democrats walked out and held up at a hotel in Urbana, Illinois for five weeks in order to deny the House a quorum to do business until the Republicans agreed to remove right-to-work legislation from the agenda for the remainder of the legislative session. House Minority Leader Pat Bauer told reporters today that he wouldn't rule out employing that tactic again this session. Bosma and Long claim that Indiana is losing businesses to other states with right-to-work laws. Gov. Daniels opposed taking up the legislation this past legislative session, but he's fully on board taking it up during the current session.

Many people forget that Indiana enacted a right-to-work law in 1957 when the Republicans controlled the legislature. The law remained in effect until the Democrats repealed it in 1965 when they controlled the legislature and the governor's office. According to the "Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, " then-House Speaker George Deiner (R-Indianapolis) considered passage of right-to-work legislation as his greatest accomplishment during the four years he served as speaker. The legislation passed the House 54-42 first and later in the Senate by a 27-23 vote after Lt. Governor Crawford Parker bypassed the Senate Labor Committee where the bill was locked up and brought it to the Senate floor for a vote. "The act was one of the most controversial of the 1950s and was bitterly opposed by organized labor because, in forbidding employers in Indiana to base hiring upon membership or non-membership in a labor union, it outlawed the 'closed shop."  

The Republicans suffered heavy election losses in the 1958 election following passage of the right-to-work law due largely to labor discontent over its passage according to the "Centennial History." The Indiana AFL-CIO hired an Illinois labor lawyer to lead an effort to repeal the law in 1959. The Senate Republican Majority Leader from Monticello, Roy Conrad, and four of his fellow Republican colleagues supported the Democrats' effort to repeal the law. Indianapolis Star publisher Eugene Pulliam came down hard on the Republican legislators in front-page editorials. Pulliam accused Conrad of "dancing to the labor bosses' tune" along with a few other "wobble-headed Republicans." Pulliam warned that hundreds of thousands of Indiana citizens would lose respect for the Republican Party if Conrad succeeded in passing the repeal. "All because country boy Conrad seems to have been befuddled and fooled by a fast-talking Chicago labor lawyer and his big city slicker labor aides," Pulliam editorialized. According to the "Centennial History", Conrad filed a defamation lawsuit against Pulliam seeking $500,000 in damages for publishing "false, scandalous, malicious, defamatory . . . matter" intended to injure Conrad's good name. Conrad's repeal effort failed, and he dropped his lawsuit against Pulliam a few weeks later.

The Democrats eventually succeeded in repealing the law in 1965 when the party controlled the legislature and the governor's office. Indiana's right-to-work law was never fully implemented before its repeal. Anticipating its enactment, labor unions rushed to negotiate two to three year contracts that protected the union shops, while the unions fought the new law in the courts. A 1959 decision by the Indiana Court of Appeals in Meade Electric Co. v. Hagberg held that the union shop was still permissible under the law even if compulsory membership was outlawed. The law was considered meaningless by the time of its repeal--sort of like the Republican overhaul of the state's prevailing wage law in 1995 that has proven to be of no effect in holding down public construction costs. Interestingly, union membership in 1965 represented about 41% of the workforce. Today, only about 11% of workers belong to a union. I'm not convinced Indiana's economic picture will change all that much if right-to-work legislation is enacted. One thing for certain, though, is that it will galvanize organized labor to work extra hard to defeat Republican legislative candidates in the 2012 election.


TMLutas said...

The GOP needs to make clear that right to work is part of a larger plan to improve conditions for Indiana workers and not an end to itself. Indiana union members, the 11%, gain in wages while the 89% not in unions suffer a penalty both in lost job opportunities and a higher cost of living paying those above market wages as they buy union goods and services.

A real workers movement, one that's fighting for all workers, would focus on increasing wages by creating labor shortages. When everybody's working, companies bid up wages when they hire.

So long as the 11% of workers in Indiana unions get to pretend they're not hurting the 89% that aren't, Republicans will pay a price for doing the right thing. But if the truth is told, loudly and made into a centerpiece of the GOP, it's the Democrats who are going to pay.

Indy Booster said...

I agree with your perspective on this. I don’t personally care if right to work passes; but why generate all of this bad blood for something that will have little effect? They should save their political capital for the important budget battles that are coming.