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Beam: Right to work laws still causing trouble

Last Modified: Friday, September 13, 2013 6:53 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

Organized labor won a rare victory last week when an Indiana county judge ruled part of the state’s right to work law was unconstitutional. The judge said the law wrongly requires unions to represent workers who don’t pay union dues.

Louisiana has a right to work law. In fact, it has had two in the last 60 years. So the Indiana ruling will definitely create some interest among labor unions in the state.

Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 gave states the authority to enact right to work laws. Those laws forbid unions and employers from entering into agreements that require employees to join a union and pay dues and fees in order to keep a job.

Florida in 1943 became the first state to pass a right to work law. Louisiana became the 17th state with a right to work law in 1954 during the administration of Gov. Robert Kennon, a conservative Democrat.

Gov. Earl K. Long two years later made repeal of the law one of his major legislative goals, and he succeeded. Passage didn’t come easily. The Associated Press said crowds along the rails in the state House were quiet, in contrast to stormy sessions in the Senate. However, there were 16 state troopers in plain clothes assigned to the House chamber. The AP said Long, the younger brother of Huey P. Long, carried on a running feud with anyone who opposed his programs.

“The fiery 60-year-old governor stalked the House and Senate floor, buttonholing members, heckling opponents and shouting instructions to his leaders,” The AP said.

Support for right to work surfaced again in 1976 following union violence at the Jupiter Chemical Co. site in West Calcasieu Parish. Labor leaders insist the violence didn’t play that big a role, but it definitely had an impact.

Former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards, a longtime supporter of organized labor, said he would sign a right to work bill if the Legislature passed one, and he stuck to his promise. He also urged supporters and opponents to accept the Legislature’s decision “without malice, violence or vindictiveness.”

“We will not tolerate any violation of personal or property rights,” Edwards said. “The passage of right to work bill gives nobody the right to do violence to anyone.”

The governor added, “Right to work may turn out to be a blessing in disguise even for those in organized labor,” the governor said.

Edwards would get a lot of argument on that score today. Unions have fought the legislation at every turn, calling the law the “right to work for less.”

The AFL-CIO said the laws only make unions weaker and lower wages and living standards for all workers in the state. It insists workers in right to work states earn an average of $5,680 less a year than workers in other states.

The national organization said right to work states have less job-based health insurance, higher poverty and infant mortality rates, less investment in education and higher rates of death on the job.

Right to work supporters disagree, of course, insisting the laws are incentives for economic development and job creation.

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the Indiana law Feb. 1, 2012. It was the first state in the Rust Belt to approve right to work. Passage involved some spirited debate and a walkout by Democrats in the Indiana House.

“This law won’t be a magic answer, but we’ll be far better off with it,” Daniels said. “No one’s wages will go down, no one’s benefits will be reduced and the right to organize and bargain collectively is untouched and intact.”

Michigan last December became the 24th state to pass a right to work law. Provisions of the law went into effect on March 28 of this year.

The Indiana attorney general has already filed notice the state will appeal the county judge’s ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court. And right to work supporters are quick to note the county judge dismissed four of the five allegations in the suit filed by members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, which is located in northwest Indiana.

Unions are also attacking the law on two other fronts. Local 150 is appealing a federal court ruling upholding Indiana’s law. The United Steel Workers is also challenging the federal ruling.

The odds of the union challenges being successful aren’t good, but you can’t blame their leaders for being encouraged about this latest development.

One thing we do know. Union membership has been on the decline in recent years. Right to work isn’t the only problem facing organized labor, but it’s at or near the top of the list of reasons why the movement has lost influence and membership.

Republicans governors control 30 of the 50 states and many of their legislatures are firmly in GOP hands. That isn’t expected to change much in the near future, so don’t look for the right to work issue to take center stage anytime soon.

    • • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com

Posted By: Ron Helton On: 9/20/2013

Title: Union Strong

Great piece Jim...As a Proud Union Member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 181 here in Ashland, Kentucky. Which the IUOE Local 181 has represented Operating Engineers in Kentucky and Southern Indiana for over 100 years. I for one, appreciate the recognition you give to Organized Labor. With your non-bias article stated only with the facts.
Some people believe these "right to work" laws will not affect wages of those whom work Non-Union jobs, I beg to differ. For it is Organized Labor and Organized Labor alone. That Stands Face to Face and takes the Hit time and time again thrown by The Hand Of Greed. All while Standing-Up for All Workers Working Rights. For every action there's a reaction. For every direct affect there's an indirect affect. Aimed at Organized Labor, these laws take a direct affect upon Union jobs/wages. Although Organized Labor is the target for these such laws. The bullseye is the indirect affect these laws will bring. Which will be a direct hit to the rest of the work force as well. The majority of the work force, Non-Union jobs/wages.
For it is Union wages that sets the scale for good paying Non-Union jobs. Without Union wages there would be nothing to compare wages too. And if Greed had its way, we would all be working for a minimum wage. Probably much less than the federal rate of $7.25 an hour. These laws will no doubt lower our standard of living, theres no way around it. There will be no such thing as a Living Wage. We will all become peasant workers, working for nothing, we will have no choice. Which by the way, having a choice, is suppose to be the very foundation for these such so called "right to work" laws. And then, the only ones left thriving will be the very ones that are thriving today, Corporate America.
In short, these "right to work" laws are nothing short of being Union Busters. Once Organized Labor is out of the way. Whom do you think then will be left Standing to take the Hit. Which I feel sure this is the very intendment of these such laws. The less we make the less we have to spend. Which in turn will lead to a Collapsed Economy. These laws are just another smack right across the face. To millions of hard working men and women. Of one of the hardest working work forces known throughout the Glob, Working Class America. Stricken down upon from no other than by The Hand Of Greed.

To my Brotherhood, IUOE Local 150 of Indiana, and to all those whom work in Organized Labor. You have already made this very choice. And the very choice you have made is the very "right to work" Union. Never apologize for being Union. As you come eye to eye standing toe to toe within the grasp of Greed. Stand Tall, Stand Strong, Stand Proud, for Union Labor is without doubt the Backbone of America. Forever Stand Union my Brotherhood. For the Face of Union Pride shall never backdown from The Hand Of Greed...It Never Has And It Never Will.!!!

For it is Union wages that sets the scale for good paying Non-Union jobs. Without Union wages there would be nothing to compare wages too. And if Greed had its way, we would all be working for a minimum wage. Probably much less than the federal rate of $7.25 an hour. These laws will no doubt lower our standard of living, theres no way around it. There will be no such thing as a Living Wage. We will all become peasant workers, working for nothing, we will have no choice. Which by the way, having a choice, is suppose to be the very foundation for these such so called "right to work" laws. And then, the only ones left thriving will be the very ones that are thriving today, Corporate America.
In short, these "right to work" laws are nothing short of being Union Busters. Once Organized Labor is out of the way. Whom do you think then will be left Standing to take the Hit. Which I feel sure this is the very intendment of these such laws. The less we make the less we have to spend. Which in turn will lead to a Collapsed Economy. These laws are just another smack right across the face. To millions of hard working men and women. Of one of the hardest working work forces known throughout the Glob, Working Class America. Stricken down upon from no other than by The Hand Of Greed.

To my Brotherhood, IUOE Local 150 of Indiana, and to all those whom work in Organized Labor. You have already made this very choice. And the very choice you have made is the very "right to work" Union. Never apologize for being Union. As you come eye to eye standing toe to toe within the grasp of Greed. Stand Tall, Stand Strong, Stand Proud, for Union Labor is without doubt the Backbone of America. Forever Stand Union my Brotherhood. For the Face of Union Pride shall never backdown from The Hand Of Greed...It Never Has And It Never Will.!!!" />

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