On Wednesday, February 1, Indiana passed a “right-to-work” law which allows workers in companies with union representation to opt out of paying union dues. Naturally unions in Indiana were upset with this “assault” on the institution of unionism. The last state to pass right-to-work legislation was Oklahoma in 2001. Southern states have long been right-to-work states. This was a “right” accorded to the states in the amendment to the National Labor Relations Act called the Labor Management Relations Act or the Taft-Hartley Act. Currently there are 22 states that are right-to-work states.
The LMRA allowed states, by implementing legislation, to forbid compulsory union membership. In non-right-to-work states when a person becomes an employee they are required to become a union member after they have passed a probationary period. They are offered no choice. The choice is “do you want to work or not”. Under right-to-work when a company becomes unionized employees are allowed to make the choice on whether or not they want to become a dues paying member. Not everyone that is in the bargaining unit covered by the contract wishes to be a member. Perhaps they did not vote for representation, perhaps it goes against their religion, perhaps it goes against their personal philosophy or there may be other reasons, but at least they have the right to choose rather than being forced by circumstances to choose between membership and their job.
Indiana is the first “rust belt” state to adopt right-to-work legislation. It will be an interesting test for the clout of unions to see how the level of membership is changed as a result of the passage of this new legislation. Will employees be brave enough to drop the payment of their dues? I say brave because they will undoubtedly be harassed for doing so, if not threatened. “That wouldn’t happen” you say? Well the unions threatened to disrupt the Super Bowl as a result of this vote, though they have now thought better of that. Upsetting an entire country is not exactly the way to win the hearts and minds of people. So it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility that fear and intimidation will be used to keep current members from dropping their dues payment.
We will have to wait and see how this plays out. The union leadership has said that retaliation will be waged at the ballot box, so much depends on the next election in November of this year.
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