Revisiting Right to Work


February 7, 2017 9:59 AM


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I was reviewing my Facebook timeline this morning and it reminded me that it was five years ago that Indiana became a “Right to Work” (RTW) state.

In case you forgot, RTW simply means you can’t be compelled to join a union as a condition of your employment.

I immediately flashbacked to the protests at the Statehouse, although many of the protesters weren’t from Indiana.   I recall the naysayers arguing that RTW was going to destroy unions, drive down wages and the democracy was going to collapse overnight and chaos would reign throughout the land.

Well guess what?   None of that happened.

In fact, since 2012, union membership has increased overall.

According the Bureau of Labor Statistics,  the number of Hoosiers who are either members of a union or represented by union have only increased.   According to the BLS, in 2012 approximately 246,000 Hoosiers were members of a union or about 9.1 percent of the workforce. .  In 2015, that number was 283,000, about 10 percent.   In addition, the number of Hoosiers who were not members of a union, but governed by a union or union-like contract went from 269,000 to 319,000.

That wasn’t supposed to happen.

Now is union participation lower than it was 10 years ago? Yes.  But you can’t necessarily blame that on RTW.  Indiana saw its biggest drops in union participation in 2008-09 and 2011-12, both before RTW was ever passed.    And nationally, union membership has been trending downward.  It was 12.5 percent in 2005, in 2015 that number was 11.1 percent.

And here’s something else to ponder, in December 2011, according to the Department of Workforce Development, Indiana had slightly more than 470,000 manufacturing jobs, as of December 2016 that number was 519,000.

If RTW was supposed to drive down wages, that didn’t happen either. In 2012, the median income in Indiana was just under $48,940, that number was $50,532 in 2015.

So if RTW was supposed to drive down wages, destroy unions and herald armageddon, it hasn’t happened yet.  Maybe next year.


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