Tag Archives: “Right to Work

The Heckler’s Veto?

The Indiana Statehouse has been the focus of a lot of demonstrations over the years, and probably just as many efforts to abort–or at least minimize– those demonstrations. Remember when the KKK came to town? The argument was “We can’t let them use the Statehouse steps–people will riot and it will endanger public safety!” The same argument, of course, was made when Martin Luther King spoke at public venues in the South–public officials argued that he couldn’t be allowed to address the crowds because the local “bubbas” would riot and endanger public safety.

The courts have had a pretty standard response to such arguments: the First Amendment protects all expression, even “the idea we hate.” Neither the government nor the “hecklers” who disagree with the message get to veto other people’s right to speak.

The term “heckler’s veto” is shorthand for the proposition that people who don’t like an idea don’t get to “veto” its expression by threatening the public safety. If there is a genuine concern about safety, courts have uniformly held that the proper response is to address that concern–provide more police, remove weapons, fix rickety stairs or do whatever else it takes to minimize the perceived danger–without denying the speaker(s) First Amendment rights.

Which brings us to the current effort to minimize the message of people opposed to pending Right to Work legislation. If having lots of folks in “the people’s house” is truly dangerous, make whatever alterations/accommodations are necessary to ameliorate that danger. But it’s hard to accept the proposition that this sudden concern about “safety” is isn’t simply a transparently political effort to shut down political opposition, an effort at a somewhat more sophisticated version of the “heckler’s veto.”

Don’t believe that? Let’s engage in a “thought experiment” suggested by my son the other day.

Let’s say a member of the General Assembly offered a bill to provide public funding for late-term abortions, and his colleagues seemed likely to vote for that bill. How many of the legislators who are piously expressing concern for the “public safety” would be working to limit the number of people Eric Miller and his anti-choice cohorts could bring to the Statehouse?

The Wrong Role Model

Let’s get real: if so-called “Right to Work” laws generated economic growth, Mississippi would be an epicenter of economic activity.

As Brian Howey notes, the current push for Right to Work is simply a continuation of the war on unions Daniels inaugurated soon after he himself was inaugurated; the sorts of jobs Indiana has been trying to grow–life sciences, biotech, etc.–aren’t union jobs anyway. But if we were to take Governor Daniels and Speaker Bosma at their word, their argument boils down to the contention that creating a “good business environment” requires that we be a low-wage,  low tax state.

A story may be instructive: Several years ago, Toyota was negotiating with three such states (all in the south) to locate a new plant. The states in question all had low wage workforces and low taxes; in addition, all were offering tax incentives. Toyota ended up going to Canada, and the economic development officers of the losing states were dumbfounded, because taxes were higher and no incentives were involved. Toyota’s explanation? The workforce was much more highly educated, and thanks to Canada’s “socialized” system, they wouldn’t need to provide healthcare.

When you look at independent research on right-to-work laws (i.e., research not sponsored by/paid for by either unions or Chambers of Commerce), there is absolutely no evidence that such laws affect job growth one way or the other. Once you control for the other factors that affect economic conditions, it appears that the only effect of such laws is to lower wages for both unionized and non-union workers.

The “liberty” argument for right-to-work is that no one should have to join a union in order to work. I agree–and under current law, they don’t. They do have to pay for services rendered by the union that benefit them–that is, their share of the cost of negotiation for wages and working conditions. That’s it. They don’t have to become a member, or support any other activities with which they disagree. The “liberty” argument against right-to-work is that employers should be free to bargain with whomever they choose–that the state should not have the power to dictate an owner’s otherwise lawful workplace policies and arrangements.

If we really want to promote job growth and a healthy economic environment, our focus should be on creating efficient, transparent state government, high-quality public schools, good public services (especially public transportation), and an improved quality of life.

Add in workers who have enough money to spend in the marketplace, and believe me, the employers will come.


Too Complicated for Democracy?

A breakfast discussion this morning about the Indiana Legislature and “Right to Work” reinforced a concern I’ve harbored.

For years, when I heard discussions about “Right to Work,” it seemed obvious to me that everyone should have the right to work without being forced to join a union. That, after all, was the way the issue was framed, and I was totally unaware that the reality was more complicated. Once I understood the issue more fully, I changed my policy preference.

The problem is, more and more issues are like Right to Work. No matter how simple the framing, the policies themselves require more in-depth knowledge in order to genuinely understand what is at stake. Formulations that compare decisions about the national budget to those you make for your own household, “Dirty Harry” approaches to criminal justice, “we just need to deport illegal immigrants” simplifications and numerous other “everyone knows” “it’s just common sense” approaches to government decision-making are simple, deceptively appealing, and usually (but not always) wrong.

The question is: how well can democracy work when even the most diligent voter (and how many of those are there?) is unlikely to be informed about the complexities of the policies being proposed by candidates?  How can we citizens make good decisions in an increasingly complex world?

I don’t have the answer to that question. But in a complicated world, a measure of humility would seem to be in order. At the very least, voters should cultivate a healthy suspicion of candidates displaying too much certitude–candidates who tell us the problems are simple. And we should run like hell from the ones who profess to have all the answers.







Masson’s Home Run

I always read Masson’s Blog, and always find him insightful, but this morning’s post on the mis-named “Right to Work” proposal is an absolute home run.

In an era that elevates spin over accuracy, naming/framing all too often substitutes for describing. “Right to Work” is a wonderful example–who could be opposed to people’s right to work? It is phrasing that feeds into the American belief in individual rights. And as Doug Masson explains, it is a phrase that has very little relationship to the reality of the legislation.

As Masson writes,

The perniciously named “right to work” is a misnomer. What the law really does is use government authority to prohibit a certain kind of contract. As it stands now, employers and employees have the freedom to enter into a contract whereby one of the conditions of employment is that employees join a union or, at least, pay some equivalent of union dues so they are not tempted to be free riders, receiving union benefits without paying for them. So, it’s a contractual provision that is currently permitted but not required. “Right to work” is a limitation on this freedom to contract. The General Assembly tells employers that they are not permitted to make union membership a condition of employment.

This is typically dressed up as championing the rights of future employees who might not want to join a union as a condition of employment; but the oddity is that typically the advocates of this restriction on contracts are, in other contexts, champions of absolute freedom to contract and could rarely care less what a potential employee thinks about the conditions of employment set by an employer. (Don’t like that condition of employment? Fine, go work somewhere else.) But, when union membership comes up, horrors! Conditions that are pro-union or anti-gun are off the table, but pretty much anything else goes.”

Home run!

This post should be distributed far and wide.