News Story

Indiana Is A Right-to-Work State

What does this mean for Michigan?

Michigan now has a right-to-work state as a neighbor, as Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed legislation Wednesday afternoon making his state the 23rd right-to-work state in the nation and the first in the Manufacturing Belt. Under the legislation, unions and companies cannot negotiate contracts that force employees to financially support a union as a condition of employment.

Gov. Daniels put his signature on the measure shortly after the Indiana state Senate passed it Wednesday morning on a 28-22 vote. A similar measure in 2011 failed when Democratic lawmakers prevented the state House from holding session by leaving the state. Subsequent polling showed that strategy to be very unpopular with the voters. This year, the Democrats could only use delaying tactics and now the legislation has become Indiana law.

Some Democratic Senators played to a gallery full of union protesters, who chanted and periodically shouted remarks, before the final vote

“When I saw you in the hallway this morning I was proud," Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said in his floor speech as he looked up at the gallery. “I stand with you as people whose rights are being trampled. Those who are voting 'yes' on this bill have created a team . . . a team that doesn't want to be trampled anymore . . . a team that will go to the polls . . . what they (RTW supporters) have been doing is waking up a sleeping dog.”

Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, characterized right-to-work supporters as a radical faction that conjured up visions of the dark lord of Star Wars lore.

“This nation has weathered these things in the past,” she said. “About 100 years ago a radical faction got temperance laws passed. That turned out to be a terrible mistake. I'm old enough to remember Joseph McCarthy telling us there was a communist under every bed. It's a good thing we have people of common sense; moderate, middle of the road people who will rise up.”

Tallian then described those who support right-to-work as being like the evil Star Wars character Darth Vader and said “the force” would turn against them.

“There's a tremor in the force that's coming forth,” she said.

Sen. Carl Yoder, R-Middleton, made the closing speech in the debate.

“This [legislation] simply allows individuals to decide for themselves whether they want to pay union dues or not,” he said. “This is about giving freedom to workers to not be involved with something they don't want to be a part of.”

At one or two points in his speech, Sen. Yoder addressed the protesters, who were repeatedly heckling him.

“You know; there are those who support this legislation who say, 'We would love to go down there (to the statehouse) but we don't have anybody who will pay the money to send us down.' The majority of Hoosiers support this bill.”

At the end of his floor statement, Sen. Yoder informed his colleagues that a company in Northeast Indiana, which had been planning to leave for a right-to-work state, had just announced that it would now be staying and would expand.

Sen. Yoder also mentioned Michigan.

“And we've heard from a company in Michigan, that had refused to consider Indiana on its list of states [to locate in] because we weren't a right-to-work state.” he said. “We're now on its list. It is now asking Indiana to participate in the bidding.”

In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder has said that he would sign right-to-work legislation if it reached his desk, but that he won't push for it as part of his agenda. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, opposes right-to-work protection for Michigan employees and has said the there aren't enough “yes” votes in the Senate for it to pass. Sen. Richardville's office did not respond when asked to comment for this article.

There are, however, plans to introduce right-to-work legislation in Michigan this year.

When asked about today's events in Indiana, Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, who is expected to introduce right-to-work legislation in the Michigan Senate this year, said he believes Indiana becoming a right-to-work state will have an impact on Michigan.

“It's good for Indiana and bad for Michigan,” Sen. Colbeck said. “But at least some of our working youths will have shorter drives now when they come back to visit Michigan for the holidays.”

Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, who is expected to introduce right-to-work legislation in the House, sees the change in Indiana as something that will put pressure on Michigan to follow suit.

“We are sending Gov. Daniels a  'thank you” bouquet today,” Rep. Shirkey said.

House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, told Capitol Confidential that policymakers in Michigan should be willing to discuss and debate right-to-work legislation.

“I have been saying since the day I was sworn in as Speaker that we need to talk about difficult issues so that we can work together to resolve differences and find solutions to make Michigan a better place to find a job,” Rep. Bolger said. “Debate should not be feared and responsibility should not be shirked; instead challenges should be resolved. The right-to-work debate is an important one to have so that people can discern the facts and we can determine what’s best for Michigan's workers and families.”

Sen. John Proos, R-St Joseph, has sponsored legislation to create right-to-work zones in Michigan. His district is along the Indiana border.

“Michigan has lost more than half of its auto industry jobs since 2002, and many of those jobs went to right-to-work states,” Sen. Proos said. “The idea of right-to-work is founded in the constitutional right of freedom of association and the American ideal of the free market. This reform would allow Michigan to explore the possible benefits of freedom-to-work, while placing economic development decisions in the hands of those who will be affected most, our local communities.

“A September 2010 study by Grand Valley State University economist Hari Singh looked at data from both sides of the issue,” Sen. Proos continued. “His conclusion was that if Michigan had adopted right-to-work status in 1965, the state today would have up to 60,000 more automobile industry jobs.”

Rich Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said his group's position is in line with that of Speaker Bolger.

“Our membership is diverse and we have no formal position on right-to-work,” Studley said. “That said, we support further discussion of this issue in Michigan. We believe that, whether some people like it or not, what's happened in Indiana will create pressure in Michigan for these discussions to occur.

“We have kept in contact with the Indiana Chamber and followed this issue closely,” Studley added. “We know that two years ago when Illinois balanced its budget with massive tax increases, Indiana took advantage by targeting Illinois and focusing on the differences between itself an Illinois. Now that they've become a right-to-work state, we anticipate Indiana doing something similar with Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.