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    Action Center
    Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
    Did you know...that the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, first printed in 1903, is the oldest peer-reviewed publication dedicated to Kentucky history?Subscribe to the Register (only $40 per year).
  • The “right-to-work” struggle in Indiana
    Posted On: Jun 26, 2015

    Joseph Brennan D. S. W., M. Div.

    Today several controlled by Republican Governors and legislatures are challenging workers’ rights by imposing what is commonly misnomer Right to Work Laws. Such legislation would give the uninformed reader the impression that these laws intend to protect and defend the rights of workers, in actuality they do just the opposite. This paper will be divided into two segments. The former will concentrate on the situation in Indiana and the comments of journalist who publish their columns in Indiana papers, the latter segment will be dedicated to a presentation by researchers from the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. in their refutation of the falsehoods frequently promulgated by conservative think tanks and the American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC), that receives the majority of its funding from the Koch Brothers.

    In March of 1957, Indiana became the 18th state in the country to adopt Right to Work legislation. It was however, subsequently repealed in 1965. Proponents of the measure stated that it would attract more business, increase jobs, and improve union accountability. Opponents replied that such laws were anti-union, harm unions and their opportunities for obtaining higher wages for its members while at the same time allowing non-union workers to obtain the benefits of union negotiations without having to financially support such union efforts on their behalf. The 1957 Indiana House and Senate were controlled by a Republican majority that voted in the original RTW bill in the last three days of the 1957 session. Today Republicans hold a 60 to 40 majority in the House and a 37 to 13 majority in the Senate. At the time Birch Bayh was the House minority leader who stated that there was nothing that his party could to defeat the RTW bill (H. Grebubger, Tribune-Star).

    Recent polling regarding RTW legislation released 12-7-11, revealed that 37% of Indiana voters favored the bill, while 47& were in opposition. Some 67% of voters disagreed with Republicans that RTW should be given a top priority in the legislature. As may be expected, opinions differed along party lines with 59% of self-identified Republicans supporting RTW, while 72% of Democrats voiced their opposition. Membership in Indiana State’s AFL-CIO numbers 300,000 workers. (The Bloomington Alternative, 12-7-11). Reacting to the imposition of this unpopular bill, Democratic legislators fled the state for five weeks leaving Indiana state government in a standstill. Those reporting on these events stated that 48% of those polled were undecided as to the merits or lack thereof of the proposed RTW legislation. (Kull, Courier Press, 12-21-11). This would mean that either the public in general is totally indifferent concerning this mislabeled bill, or that union membership has a major task of educating the general public as to the effects of RTW on all workers both union and non-union. The fact is that whatever the outcome of the legislative vote federal law will still require that unions represent both their members and non-members.

    What one might ask has been Governor Mitch Daniel’s role in this issue. As reported by, if the title Right to Work is deceiving, the Governor’s role in his relationship with the union membership has been even more so. This report states that during the yearly Union Stewards Appreciation Dinner, attended by more that 500 stewards for Union Local No. 135, the governor “extended an olive branch to the local union. In his address he reportedly stated that he was not in favor of Right to Work legislation, and that he wanted to bring fairness and common-sense leadership to the citizens. The article goes on to say that the governor was proud of his endorsement from Teamsters Joint Council No. 69 which assumed the governor’s opposition to RTW. Is it any wonder that union membership now feels betrayed by the governor’s actions? (Buhle,

    Right to Work legislation would not have the influence it has were it not for major financial supporters with deep pockets. Conservative lawmakers push the Right to Work legislation and the end of the state’s inheritance tax. They propose that these two measures are key factors dividing the so called rich states from the poor states. This is a proposition that will be later challenged in this article by recent research conducted by the Economic Policy Institute. It should come as no surprise to anyone that these positions favoring RTW are endorsed and promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, as you might recall is a recipient of funding from the billionaire oil tycoons- the Koch brothers. (

    Right to Work (for Less) has been controversial legislation since its first approval in 1957. During the past five decades entire generations have come into this world to face labor conditions that differ from those of yester year, but at the same time are very similar. It is evident the nomenclature of RTW only confuses the issue and this is the very purpose of it labeling. Today’s labor force might well be unaware of the hidden consequences behind its goals, and from previous quoted polls, indifference appears to reign. Partisan power does not make an issue right. An uninformed citizenry, or one deceived in believing such presentations as the one given by Governor Daniels to union members, make the imposition of such union busting measures possible. In the following half of this presentation we will examine a critical analysis of the economic assumptions of the proponents of RTW, and reveal the erroneous foundations of their misguided methodologies.

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