Right to Work Deserved to be Heard on the House Floor

(By Dan Drexler, Vice Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Indiana.)

Regardless of the ultimate position one takes on Right-to-Work (RTW) legislation, the vote along party lines to move this bill out of committee and onto the full House floor for debate was the right action to be taken.

In a session that has seen the GOP majority wasting time challenging civil liberties on social issues, it is refreshing to see GOP committee members finally moving legislation forward that could impact the state’s economy. Regardless of how difficult a decision can be, making these decisions is what our elected officials are employed to do. It’s all part of doing the people’s business.

Democrats, on the other hand, appear to have abandoned their sense of duty by imitating their Wisconsin counterparts and staging a walk-out of the Indiana Statehouse. They can claim this is a political tactic that must be employed in defense of their constituency, but the reality is they are shirking their responsibilities and ignoring the oaths taken to serve the State. If Democrats prefer not to face the tough decisions of legislating, I am certain some of my fellow Libertarians would welcome that calling.

What is most puzzling, though, is why Democrats appear to be admitting defeat on a very divisive political issue that is anything but black or white – conservative or liberal. Some small government advocates struggle equally with the role government should play in defining private contracts. Other politicians in traditional swing districts truly dread having their hands called on this issue.

In La Porte County, Republican Representative Tom Dermody treads a fine line between advocating the interests of a vocal union workforce, primarily concentrated within the region’s steel mills, with the more traditionally conservative values of the rural district that runs from Winamac up to Michigan City.

While the district can swing either direction any election cycle, the challenges for incumbents are not limited to the general election. Primary contests can prove equally dangerous. In 2010, Dermody faced a stiff primary challenge from Hanna small business owner, Todd Reinert. Reinert ran on a RTW agenda. Dermody held on to the seat, but did not come out of the contest unscathed.

Dermody’s experience is not unique in swing districts. State Democrats are foolish to think that all Republicans fall in line on right-to-work legislation. Conversely, they should not be so secure believing that their own caucus is lockstep on a controversial issue.

Even in libertarian circles, arguments can be heard on both sides of this labor issue. In fact, in the early 2000’s, the Libertarian National Party platform included language that rejected state efforts to enact RTW legislation based on a small government position that a private company has the right to contract with their employees as they see appropriate. A common argument is that smaller, less intrusive government allows for collective bargaining in the private sector and legislation should not be passed restricting these private contracts.

Of course, that position holds that a government-created corporate entity has equal rights to an employee’s. Libertarians more steeped in civil liberties would argue that it is the role of government to protect an individual’s interests foremost over those contractual interests of a corporation. Forcing a person to pay into a system, regardless of membership in the union violates that individual’s free speech and right to freely associate.

Driven by the data of the economics surrounding the issue, I personally come down on the side of the individual over the corporation. Organized labor will have you believe that wages in states that have passed RTW legislation are lower across the board and the legislation is bad for the working class. There very well could be some merit to their arguments in the short term.

However, in the long term, it has been shown that the twenty-two states that have RTW protections have more vibrant economies, lower unemployment rates on average and a lower cost of living. According to a published report by the National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILRR), the long-term earnings potential for workers eclipses those of non-RTW states by nearly $3,000 per working individual. Indiana could truly set itself apart from neighboring states by passing RTW legislation.

However, the legislation at the center of Indiana’s firestorm presents other technical problems. HB1468 is a flawed bill that very well could be voted down by a bi-partisan majority. In his efforts to craft legislation acceptable to most legislators within his own party, Representative Gerry Torr built in special interest exemptions for construction workers, U.S. government employees and workers subject to the federal Railway Labor Act. In Indiana, there are about 220,000 individuals employed in the construction industry. These special interest exemptions could very well sabotage this effort.

Rather than flee the Statehouse, Democrats would have been better served by actually representing their constituents, building alliances across party lines and working to defeat what many view as flawed legislation.

While their actions will undoubtedly make Indiana a sub-heading to Wisconsin’s labor stand-off, it is incredibly shameful that this is the tactic our Indiana Democrats choose to take. As one blogger appropriately noted today, it’s a case of “Donkey See, Donkey Do.”

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