Commentary: Right to work was the right thing to do

By Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org.

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org.

When I read a few weeks ago that a Lake County judge had ruled that Indiana’s passage of right to work violated the state constitution, I had to work really hard to keep a straight face.

Commentary button in JPG - no shadowI frankly didn’t know which was more amusing – the fact that it was a Lake County judge or the fact that it was a Lake County judge. No, that was a not a typo.

Judge John Sedia (yes, I know he was a former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels’ appointee, but the fact he’s from Lake County cancels that out) basically said that RTW violated Article 1, Section 21 of the Indiana Constitution which provides that, “No person’s particular services shall be demanded, without just compensation.” In plain English, unions say that under federal law they are “required” to represent non-dues paying members so RTW forces them to provide those services for free.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller has appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court.

A lot of experts doubt Judge Sedia’s holding will stand on a number of grounds. First of all, there is a strong presumption that all laws passed by the General Assembly are constitutional. Second, the question will be whether a union fits the definition of a “person” under Indiana code. Third, even if a union is considered to be a “person,” contrary to labor propaganda, unions are not compelled to represent everyone in the workplace.

When a union is certified, it can decide whether it wants to be “members-only” bargaining unit or represent everyone in the workplace. Under the “members-only” categorization, the union would represent members who pay dues. However, many unions won’t go that route because they lose a lot of the power granted to them by federal law, one of which is to collect fees from non-union members in states that don’t have a right-to-work law.

But let’s set aside the legal arguments. Just take a look at the impact RTW has had here in Indiana.

According to the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, as of this summer, 109 companies have said the Hoosier state’s enactment of right to work will factor into their decision-making process of where to locate current projects. Seventy-two of these projects have progressed to the pipeline stage and account for the potential of nearly 11,000 projected new jobs and more than $2.9 billion in investment.

Of these 72 companies, 53 companies have already accepted the state’s offer, accounting for more than 6,619 projected new jobs and more than $2.2 billion in investment. And eight of those companies have publicly announced that right-to-work was a factor in their decision making process. That list includes Reflex & Allen, coming to Indianapolis, Whayne Supply, Professional Transportation, Inc., and SealCorp USA in Evansville, as well as Android Industries in Ft. Wayne

Opponents say the RTW law allows employees of companies like those to get free rides because unions are forced to provide representation to workers who don’t pay dues. But I would argue the biggest plus of RTW is that the opposite is true: It ends the forced ride of compulsory membership.

RTW simply gives workers a choice to pay union fees. If unions are doing their job and providing quality representation to their membership, then there is no reason that most individuals won’t pay for the service. Will there be some people who try to game the system Sure. But unions can address that by simply moving towards a “members-only” representation model where they only represent the workers who pay the dues or fees.

If you have to compel someone to pay for you to represent them, then maybe the problem isn’t them, maybe it’s you or the service you’re providing. Right to work was the right thing to do. Hopefully the Indiana Supreme Court will see that as well.

Abdul is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org. He is also a frequent contributor to numerous Indiana media outlets. He can be reached at

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One Response to Commentary: Right to work was the right thing to do

  1. A couple of these arguments need a closer look. The Indiana Economic Development Corporation is a highly political outfit, prone to exaggerate the effectiveness of its activities and, of course, fully bought in to the ideological premises and prejudices of Indiana’s ruling Republican party. One of those prejudices is that concerted action by working people to obtain better workplace conditions is bad while concerted action by businesses is good. The theory is that workers will be better off through some job creation magic of the marketplace. That theory hasn’t worked out very well for low and middle income people over recent decades.

    No doubt “right” to work is a factor in a firm’s decision on where to locate. After all, the purpose of the law was to weaken labor unions, and what businessman wants to work with a strong union? The question is, how much of a factor is it compared with myriad other considerations which enter into investment decisions? And how strog were unions in the first place in Indiana? Perhaps 10-15% of the workforce was unionized, reflecting the long term decline of labor unions in the manufacturing sector in the US. The main problem with unions for the Republican was that they generally supported Democrats. Attacking their funding source therefore was great idea for a Republican-dominated legislature. Mission accomplished. But to suggest that this law has triggered a flood of new investment is very questionable. Also, as some investigative journalism has shown, those promised new investments often don’t show up. And, of course, while some new ones come, others pull up stakes and leave. We never the net figures. Gov. Pence will not be showing up shake hands with laid off workers on their last day of work at GE in Bloomington next month. State Republican propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding, Indiana is not an economic paradise. Just ask some of those union workers.

    Finally, to suggest that the free rider problem is insignificant flies in the face of economic theory. Strapped workers are unlikely to pay for services they can obtain for nothing and, if they do pay something, it will almost certainly be less than the market price. Wage differentials between unionized and non-unionized sectors suggest that union activities have value for workers, so the failure of free riders to pay for for union services is probably not a good measure of the value of those services.