News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Flashpoint

December 18, 2011

FLASHPOINT: There’s little right about ‘right to work’ proposal

The danger contained in these three simple words – “Right to Work” — is that they sound so innocent.

Who could be against having the right to work?

But there is nothing simple or innocent about a proposal with a documented history of cutting pay for workers, reducing benefits they earn to support their families, and reducing safety in their workplaces.

There is a very good reason it is called “Right to Work For Less.”                                              

RTW For Less says: If you work at a place with union representation, you can reap the benefits that come from collective bargaining – salaries, health care – but refuse to pay your share of the costs of negotiating those benefits.

What would happen if an employee at a union business decided to stop paying dues, then gets injured on the job? This worker would get the same protections received by a worker who pays union dues, even though he doesn’t pay for those protections.

Does this sound fair to you? To be able to reap the benefits paid for by others? I don’t think so.

Mind you, this is an issue only in a union shop. If you don’t work for a union business, then you’re not paying dues or representation fees. The only businesses affected by RTW For Less laws are those that have chosen to negotiate with employee unions.

So if union shops are the only places affected, then how does the preservation of bargaining rights in Indiana keep any businesses from coming to our state?

It doesn’t.

During last summer’s hearings on RTW, not one shred of evidence was presented that proved any business refused to come to Indiana because we allow workers and businesses the freedom to collectively bargain.

Indiana’s top economic development official couldn’t name a single company that chose to locate elsewhere because Indiana refused to be a RTW For Less state.

There are no facts proving that Indiana could benefit by becoming a RTW For Less state. There have never been any findings that prove RTW For Less will help lure jobs to our communities.

By contrast, here are some easily verifiable facts:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker in a RTW For Less state makes substantially less than a worker in a non-RTW state. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, RTW For Less states have a higher poverty level. Workplace deaths are more than 50 percent higher in RTW For Less states, while workers injured on the job in those states receive lesser benefits.

Let’s look at the experiences of just two of the 22 RTW For Less states in this country.

Mississippi, which passed RTW For Less in 1954, consistently has ranked dead last in the nation in its ability to attract jobs. Its  workers earn less than 80 cents on the dollar compared with the average U.S. worker.

Since Oklahoma passed RTW For Less in 2001, manufacturing jobs have disappeared. The Oklahoma Department of Commerce reported the state is attracting 33 percent fewer firms and jobs. Instead of losing jobs to competing states, Oklahoma jobs are going overseas, where no state can compete with the low wages offered in foreign countries.

Indiana already ranks in the top tier in the assets it provides to attract jobs. In the current economy, why would the Republican majorities at the Statehouse want to risk enacting a policy that could easily throw us back into the depths of recession? Furthermore, why would these majorities be so steadfast in their pursuit of a policy opposed by Hoosiers, according to a recent poll?

Because there is only one group that benefits from RTW For Less.

Big business. It reduces the costs of paying salaries and benefits to their workers, which increases their profits.

Hoosier workers already earn only 86 cents on the dollar, compared to other workers across this country. Bringing RTW For Less to Indiana will be just another step on our race to the bottom.

Yet Right to Work For Less will be offered by the Republican majorities in the 2012 legislative session as their grand plan to create jobs.

That may sound like a joke, but it becomes something far more serious when you hear supporters claim that RTW For Less will be our state’s way to find work for Hoosier veterans returning from service overseas.

Think about that for a minute. Here is the message we are sending these men and women:

You have put your life at risk defending our country. Here will be your reward.

There will be few new jobs. The jobs that are created will have low wages and benefits, and you’ll be working in a place where safety takes a back seat to putting more money in the pockets of your bosses.

Forgive me for thinking that Indiana can do a whole lot better.

State Rep. David Niezgodski (D-South Bend)  is the ranking Democrat on the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee.

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