States using right to work legislation to help with unemployment
In Ontario, 600,000 people are out of work, plants are closed, shops boarded up and businesses bankrupt, which has left some wondering what the solution is.
In the U.S. some states say they are solving the problem with a controversial policy called right to work. It’s a law that lets workers choose whether or not they pay union dues.
Right to work is supposed to attract new businesses and jobs - in part - by weakening unions, and empowering employers and employees.
It's a policy the Ontario PCs are planning to campaign on, in an attempt to lure businesses here, but the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the border.
It was just 18 months ago that picket lines were up outside London's Electro-Motive Diesel with 500 workers locked out, because they wouldn't accept a 50 per cent cut to their wages.
Seemingly overnight the plant closed and the jobs moved south of the border, leaving hundreds without work, including Kelly Gordon.
“I was shocked. I figured at some point they would go back to the table and there would be a discussion and we would lose some things. I didn't figure that they'd close our plant. Not right away anyways.”
But parent company Progress Rail did, and expanded operations in Indiana - a right to work state.
Jay Julian of the Muncie-Delaware Economic Development Alliance says “Progress Rail is relatively new for us. It was a company that 2009, 2010, was going through their location process, we were working with their site developers and we were very fortunate and delighted to have them locate in Muncie - and they are growing.”
In February 2012, as Electro-Motive workers were locked out, Indiana Governor Mike Pence was trying to help his state out of the recession and into jobs.
"The fact that Indiana was the first right to work state in the Midwest is an important selling point for Indiana," he says.
The idea was to attract jobs by giving workers a choice. They don't have to join the union in a unionized workplace, and they don't have to pay dues if they don't want to.
Julian's job is to bring jobs to Muncie and he says the law helps, “We're getting more projects now, or at least getting the opportunity to participate in more projects than we did before.”
But Nancy Guyott of the Indiana AFL-CIO, who represents 300,000 workers in the state, says the law hasn't had any positive impact.
“We are still above the national average in our unemployment rate. We still have an incredible number of folks who are looking for work in Indiana. It hasn't brought in any jobs that we're able to track at all.”
Muncie's unemployment rate hasn't changed over the past year, holding at 9.6 per cent from July 2012 to July 2013 and while Indiana's unemployment rate has improved since right to work became law, it hasn't kept pace with national levels.
Guyott says “Every company that has been claimed to come here due to right to work, if you do your research, you can find that they were already here or they were already coming here.”
Like Magna, which has remained unorganized since it opened its first plant in Indiana in 2001, and he Canadian manufacturing giant created 300 good paying jobs
And in the years just prior to right to work legislation coming into effect, the Canadian manufacturing giant created 300 good paying jobs in Muncie.
Unions say right to work's biggest impact is on them, because they are still forced to represent workers who are no longer paying dues, meaning their resources are spread thinner.
Guyott adds “It has emboldened employers to seek more concoctions at the bargaining table.”
And two years after the law was passed Muncie still looks much the same, with locked up factories, neglected sidewalks and forgotten homes.
“We have more and more people making poverty level wages and there are no more jobs,” Guyott says.
Coming up in part two: The potential for right to work laws in Ontario and why one party thinks it could help plug the leak of the province’s jobs to the U.S.