Opinion and Forefront

WOUDENBERG: Right-to-work would level the playing field

December 10, 2011

Anita Y. WoudenbergEven as we “deck the halls with boughs of holly,” Hoosier politicians are gearing up for a fight. The right-to-work issue, which prohibits employers from requiring their employees to be union members, is already raising its controversial head as our legislators prepare to take up the issue in January.

Television commercials supporting such legislation are being run by Republican leadership in the House. And pro-union protesters with signs “We are the 99%” appear outside the Capitol while rumors swirl of the Democrats’ intention to again flee the state to avoid a vote on this issue.

It has been a rough year. While the governor is not overly concerned by the latest 0.1-percentage point increase in the unemployment rate—and rightly so given the factors that determine the rate—the rate has now hit 9 percent, an increase of 0.6 point from May.

So it’s understandable to me that right-to-work is being revisited. We are not competitive globally because the cost of hiring an American to make a product or render a service is unnecessarily high, inflated by bargaining agreements arranged through unions. And we need to be. If employers, whether domestic or international, need to pay Hoosiers more for the same work product than they would a foreigner, they will hire those workers over us.

Opponents argue that wages will fall. That’s exactly the point. And so will the cost of our product. “American made” is almost synonymous with higher cost.

I’d be more than willing to buy American if I knew I’d be getting a quality product at a price that is at least competitive with the other guy’s.

And of course this need to be competitive means the “evil” corporation is only taking as much profit as it can without losing to the competition. So there’s no huge win for corporations other than having the same autonomy as its employees to do whatever it wants, free to employ any individual at whatever price he is willing to work for.

Every worker is entitled to whatever he and his employer are willing to contract for.

In fact, what we fail to realize is that we are in competition with one another. It is not the fault of my neighbor that he will do the same work I would for less pay. That simply means I need to reassess what I ask for, demonstrate the superiority of my work, or find another employer willing to pay what I ask.

We need to get over our sense of entitlement and take ownership for our situation. No one is entitled to a job they love at their ideal salary. It just doesn’t work that way. There is no objective value to your work. Its value is what it’s worth to you and to a potential employer.

I’m all for warm and fuzzy feelings. But those come from working hard and giving back to your community, not from avoiding the competitive nature of the free market with more entitlements that are not sustainable in this increasingly global market.

But regardless of the outcome of any right-to-work legislation, despite these somber economic times, the Christmas season reminds us of the hope and grace that is fortunately not contingent on any earthly act. Indeed, the Christmas story opens to a census being taken of the “entire Roman world” for the purpose of assessing taxes to fund the excesses of the Roman emperors, only to conclude in the simple poverty of an animal’s feeding trough.

So while the political battle rages and economic projections look uncertain, let’s remember that we still are part of an exceptional nation, a shining city on a hill, that has been greatly blessed with many freedoms and a tenacity and faith that has seen us through in the past.

With this comfort and hope, we, too, can “sleep in heavenly peace.”•

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Woudenberg practices constitutional law at The Bopp Law Firm in Terre Haute. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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