Right-to-work protester
A member of the Teamsters union reads off reasons why he’s against the right-to-work legislation from the back of his protest sign.

As 2011 lingered in the rearview mirror, the first hot-button topic of the New Year hit the Manufacturing Belt: right-to-work legislation in Indiana. The Mackinac Center was on the scene from day one of the controversy, providing on-the-ground reporting and analysis for Michigan and the rest of the country.

The right-to-work bill that was signed into law by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels on Feb. 1, 2012, made it illegal to require an individual to join or remain in a union or to pay any dues, fees or other charges to a labor organization. In non-right-to-work states, including Michigan, collective bargaining agreements typically require workers to pay a fee in lieu of regular dues if they do not wish to formally join the union.

The concern for proponents of the right-to-work law was the Indiana House Democrats, who the year before had fled to Chicago to halt voting on a similar measure. The maneuver had come at a public relations cost, however, and despite several initial walkouts in January of this year and union protests, the Republican majorities in the Indiana Senate and House and public outcry eventually forced these legislators’ hands. 

The Mackinac Center sent reporters to Indiana for most of January, filming the union protests held outside the capitol and posting to CapCon. Labor Policy Director Paul Kersey simultaneously illuminated the legislation’s potential economic benefits to Indiana, such as faster rates of income growth and job creation.

From a workers’ rights perspective, right-to-work laws provide accountability to employees more effectively than so-called “Beck Rights,” which are a reference to the U.S. Supreme Court case, Communications Workers of America v. Beck. Under Beck, an employee should be able to limit his or her payment to the union to his or her share of the costs of representation. In reality, inaccurate union accounting often makes this a futile exercise.

Now that a right-to-work bill has been proposed in Michigan, economic pressure is just beginning to mount. Sen. Colbeck, R-Canton, remarked of Indiana’s new status, “It’s good for Indiana and bad for Michigan. But at least some of our working youths will have shorter drives now when they come back to visit Michigan for the holidays.”