Beam: Right to work laws still causing trouble

By 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


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.

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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