Controversy continues over right to work legislation
While 24 states have adopted right to work laws allowing employees to opt out of paying union dues, critics call it union busting and at least one judge has ruled some parts of the legislation are unconstitutional.
The idea of the legislation is to attract new jobs and new employers and it’s something Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives are lobbying for here at home.
But just last month an Indiana judge ruled that part of the state's right to work law is unconstitutional, saying that unions are being forced to work for free.
It’s what many critics of the right to work phenomenon say too - that the law doesn't create jobs - but weakens unions.
When Dale Pierson, an attorney representing the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 150, took on the State of Indiana in September he was speaking for hundreds of thousands of unionized workers.
He explained “Indiana has now passed this law that says the union cannot require people, as a condition of employment, to pay their fair share of the fees that go towards servicing them - negotiating contracts, enforcing those contracts, filing grievances on behalf of those employees who may get fired, etc.”
And he won.
“When you have a law that says you don't have to pay, it basically saps the union's resources. You can’t do the stuff that people want to do politically, you can’t do the things that we would ordinarily do, in terms of organizing new companies, in terms of levelling the playing field, in terms of protecting the wages and benefits that we've worked very hard for, for many, many years.”
He argued that the law violates Indiana’s constitution - namely Article One, Section 21 – “No person's particular services shall be demanded without just compensation.”
“The judge basically took, I think, a very common sense, down to earth, approach to the theory. He said federal law requires the union to fairly represent all of the people in any given bargaining unit and the union would otherwise be entitled to charge for those services.”
The attorney general is appealing the ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court, but if the lower court's ruling holds, then one of the cornerstones of right to work laws will be stricken from the law.
Pierson says “Employers promote right to work laws in part because they know they will weaken unions by taking away union resources. The logic for them is that if the unions are weaker they can't negotiate contracts that are as strong.”
But it also means unions won’t be able to spend money on things like a $50-million training centre in Illinois that services IUOE members in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
Dan Reda, coordinator of the Local 150 Apprenticeship and Skill Improvement Centre, says “We like to think of this as the largest sandbox in America.”
In fact it’s a 342,000 square foot sand box with more than 200 pieces of heavy equipment including more than 20 cranes, all paid for by union dues.
It’s a facility that has helped people like Karl Dye stay employed.
“I've had a lot of different jobs. I was a truck driver before, I worked in a factory, but since I’ve become [part of Local] 150, my life is much better. Ten fold.”
As he trains on a new crane, he knows it’s the type of learning that keeps him working.
“It makes it better for the employer, because as an employee, I’m better. I'm better trained, and I know how to do the job and I know how to do the things that need to be accomplished.”
Reda says the centre acts as a tool for employers too - to help them have the skilled labour where and when they need it.
“We can start steering people in that direction, and get the word out to people to get down here, sharpen their skills, learn something new, because there's going to be work in that area and they are probably going to benefit from it. And then we're able to give contractors those operators they need.”
Since the centre opened six years ago, it has helped thousands of its members maintain gainful employments but it has also helped thousands of employers find the skilled labour they need when they need it.
That’s something the coordinators say wouldn't have happened if Illinois had been right to work.
Reda adds “It would not allow for a lot of what you see here today. It would've in the past not allowed this to be built probably. It would've been very detrimental to us as a whole.”
Pierson thinks Indiana’s right to work law will stop ground breaking on similar projects, but hopes if he wins the next stage in the battle, he could stop the right to work movement dead in its tracks.
“We could be sowing the seeds for a fundamental legal challenge to right to work right across the country, and we think that will be a good thing.”