News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Liz Ciancone

November 29, 2011

LIZ CIANCONE: Work's not a 'right', it's a necessity

I understand the Indiana Legislature intends to work to produce a “right to work” bill this coming session.

Sounds good? Think about it! We already have a “right” to work. For most of us it is more a necessity than a right. If we don’t work, we don’t eat.

What our lawmakers seem to have in mind is legislation to forbid requiring would-be workers  to join a union as a condition of employment. In the interest of full disclaimer, I paid union dues and gladly accepted the results of union negotiation for salary and benefits. “Right to Work” is simply word play intended to confuse us with the implication that without a new law, none of us will have a right to work.

But if our Hoosier legislature does press on with such a law, I have a few questions for our senators and representatives as they go into session.

Exactly what is a union? If the Indiana State Teachers Association is a union, does that mean that all associations are unions? What about the American Medical Association or the American Bar Association? If they are unions, can they require dues from prospective doctors and lawyers before they can open a practice?

Nor are “associations” alone in defining “union.” The CIO is a “congress” of industrial organizations, and the AFL is a “federation” of labor. Will a new law infringe upon our constitutional right of freedom of assembly to work for a mutual interest?

How about “unions” in professional sports? Will individual players or owners be subject to whatever “right to work” law is passed? Suppose a member of the Colts or the Pacers decides to forego paying dues to the Players Association? Will he be able to reap salary and benefits negotiated for dues-paying members, or is he on his own?

There is also an owners’ “association” with a negotiator who sits down with the players’ negotiator to talk salary and benefits. Since owners hold the keys to the training rooms, do they really need additional leverage? We almost lost the football season this year and until a tentative agreement is signed it’s up to two different “associations” to determine whether there will be a basketball season.

Maybe fans need a “union!”

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter. Send e-mail to

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