STYRING: Right-to-work is rooted in basic fairness

December 24, 2011

Bill StyringAmsterdam in The Netherlands requires all local businesses—airlines, shippers, legal pot parlors—to pay Amsterdam dues. Guess those loony Dutchmen haven’t recovered from their tulip bulb bubble of the 1600s.

The same logic applies for compulsory union dues. But unions would be howling if such a chamber dues law were seriously proposed (as would almost everyone).

One thing is remarkable. The oomph for this push seems to be coming from the Legislature. Until a statement supporting right-to-work on Dec. 15, Gov. Daniels had been coy about openly endorsing the plan.

Earlier this year, he asked right-to-work supporters to shelve the legislation. And House Democrats marched off to Illinois for nearly six weeks mostly in protest of right-to-work.

Right-to-work threatens the money spigot of their core union allies.

One thing unremarkable is the unions’ reaction to the threat of right-to-work’s actually becoming law. They’re petrified. Unions love mandatory dues payments from unwilling workers, to be spent on whatever union leaders fancy—including political contributions.

Worse still, this is Indiana. An Indiana right-to-work law would give a beachhead in the heartland of industrial unionism.

You can expect gobs of outside groups, on both sides, to pile in here. Indiana’s gonna be bloodier than Omaha Beach. Don’t be surprised if our Statehouse is routinely on the nightly news.

Just don’t let the political theatrics outshine the basic labor-market moral unfairness of not having a right-to-work law. I would favor the law even if it could be determined to retard economic growth.

Priority One of the 2012 General Assembly will be passage of right-to-work.

Seldom has a legislative No. 1 to-do been so transparently and loudly trumpeted so far in advance. House Speaker Brian Bosma has even taken the step of airing TV commercials inviting Hoosiers to sign petitions supporting the move. No speaker in my memory has ever gone so far out on a limb so openly on the airwaves. Good for him.

Right-to-work involves 1947 Taft-Hartley amendments to the 1935 National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act. States may prohibit a “closed shop” in which an employer and a union contractually agree that membership in the union, or at least payment of union dues, is a condition for employment at that workplace.

Twenty-two states, mostly in the South and Great Plains, have done so. Indiana would be the first state in the industrial Midwest.

Often, the right-to-work debate is framed in economic development terms. Everything else being equal, do right-to-work states grow faster? With my economist hat on, the answer is yes.

But what about the fundamental morality involved?

Without a right-to-work law, an unwilling citizen (employee) can be forced to pay dues (tribute) to a private organization (the union) as a condition for earning his livelihood. The left likes to prattle about “fairness.” Exhibit A is President Obama’s speech in Ossawatamie, Kan. “Fair deal.” “Fair shake.” “Fair share.”

“Fair” is what scientists call an empirically untested proposition. It’s whatever the prez says it is, and he has the IRS backing his play.

Where, pray tell, is the moral fairness in Man A (the generic state) telling Man B (the employer) that he must take from Man C (the employee via dues check-off) to give to Man D (the union) as a condition for feeding his kids?

An analogy: Suppose as a condition for doing business in Indiana, every business were required to pay dues to the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Call it a “representation fee.”

That’s the argument unions always use. Someone represented by the union who doesn’t pay up is a “free rider.” Hence, he must be forced to pay. Now the notion that every business should be required to pay dues to the state chamber is ridiculous (though not completely far-fetched).•


Styring is an economist, a former Indiana Chamber of Commerce lobbyist, and a former senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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