Thousands of Indiana workers rallied outside, and inside, their state capitol on Wednesday to speak out against Governor Mitch Daniels' renewed effort to force through so-called "right to work" legislation designed to undermine labor unions and workers' rights protected by collective bargaining.
One Victory for Democracy--Restored Access to the Indiana Capitol
Workers won a victory Wednesday when the Governor rescinded new restrictions that had been created to limit the rights of Indiana citizens to freely access their state capitol building. Prior to last year's protests, citizens in Indiana, Wisconsin, and other states had long enjoyed easy access to their state houses to express their views on legislation, but in Indiana as with Wisconsin and other states, partisan political leaders imposed supposedly "safety-based" restrictions to limit citizens exercising their freedoms of assembly and speech. On Wednesday, faced with thick lines of constituents winding down the streets of the capitol, the state lifted the low cap on the number of people who could enter the building where legislation is being pushed to restrict worker rights.
The Battle Against another Anti-Labor Bill with "ALEC" Corporate DNA
Thousands of taxpayers arrived from across the state, along with a small number of counter-protesters, in response to the announcement that the Indiana legislative leaders were planning to push through a so-called "right to work" bill, which has been called the "right to work for less" bill by opponents.
This bill is no native born Hoosier idea. It tracks key provisions of "model" legislation secretly voted on by corporations and politicians on a task force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Although ALEC calls itself the largest organization of state legislators, it is bankrolled by some of the biggest global corporations in the world, such as Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil, and other companies from outside of Indiana. About 99% of the funding for ALEC's operations come from corporations and sources other than legislative dues, which are $50 per year. ALEC legislators often introduce legislation, voted on behind closed doors by ALEC corporations and politicians, cleansed of any reference to the fact that the bills were pre-approved and pre-voted on by corporations. The current corporate co-chair for Indiana is the North Carolina-based Duke Energy Company, which is tasked by ALEC with raising money from corporations for "scholarships" for ALEC politicians to attend vacation conventions at fancy resorts with schmooze and booze events with corporate lobbyists.
Duke Energy came under fire last year in Indiana for trying to pass off onto customers hundreds of millions in over-budget costs for the Edwardsport Plant in Knox County. That coal gasification plant has gone so far over budget, to the tune of a billion dollars, that the state of Indiana has been looking into whether there was fraud or concealment. Duke has also been called out for paying no net taxes between 2008 and 2010 on over $5 billion in pre-tax profits, according to the Corporate Tax Dodgers Report of the Citizens for Tax Justice (which is uploaded below).
Duke's state co-chair for ALEC is Senator Jim Buck of Kokomo, who also sits on ALEC's Board of Directors, which approves "model" legislation in every area of the law. He is the co-chair of the ALEC Tax Task Force, which has previously opposed taxes on windfall profits of global energy companies and sought to eliminate combined reporting for corporations, thus making it easier for companies to use gimmicks to hide profits out of state.
State Rep. David Wolkins of Winona Lake is also an ALEC statewide co-chair, along with Senator Buck and Duke Energy. He is also the co-chair of ALEC's Energy Task Force, and in 2011 ALEC named him a "State Legislator of the Year" for advancing ALEC's vision. (In some prior years, legislators receiving this designation also received cash "awards," although it is not certain if Wolkins did.)
Indiana is now playing a central role in ALEC's agenda. The Chairman of ALEC's Public Sector Board this year is Representative David Frizzell of Indianapolis, who has also been a member of ALEC's Health Task Force. In all, at least 17 Indiana representatives and five state senators are members of ALEC Task Forces, along with an unknown number of other legislators who do not have these known leadership roles with ALEC corporate partners. Representative Richard McClain of Logansport, who introduced H.B. 1104, the latest version of "Right to Work" introduced in the state, is also a member of the ALEC Tax Task Force, along with Senator Buck.
How Close Is HB 1104 to the Bill Voted on by ALEC Corporations?
The Indiana bill, which was introduced on the first day of the legislative session this year, contains provisions very similar to the ALEC "model" bill. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), which publishes PRWatch, analyzed and exposed over 800 ALEC-approved bills or resolutions last year, including the "Right to Work Act." The Indiana bill, HB 1104, has key operative language that echoes the ALEC bill at CMD's ALECexposed.org. (A mark-up of the model Right to Work Act is also available below, along with a copy of HB 1104, with terminology in common highlighted on the Indiana version.)
Both "Right to Work" bills would make it a crime to violate the bills' bar on a union requiring a worker to pay dues when the worker's rights are protected by a union-negotiated collective bargaining agreement. Both bills would require state prosecutors to investigate violations and enforce the criminalization of dues collection that has historically protected against free-riders taking advantage of the benefits and rights negotiated by union representatives without paying any dues. And, both bills also authorize civil lawsuits for violating the new rules, if enacted, including damages, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees, "in addition to any other remedies and penalties." Protesters in Indiana and elsewhere have objected to such "punitive" legislation and consider this to be part of a "War on Workers."
Although the ALEC bill and the Indiana bill have some minor differences in the setting forth of these provisions, these three core elements of "Right to Work" legislation are substantively the same and have the same effect. The only major substantive difference is that the new Indiana bill would impose these restrictions as a "pilot program" rather than state-wide immediately, unlike the ALEC bill. In the view of CMD, the bills' core operative terms and requirements are sufficiently similar to say that the Indiana bill shares ALEC DNA, even though it is not identical in its layout or in every detail.
The common operative components are not surprising because the ALEC "model" legislation for "Right to Work" was approved by ALEC corporations and politicians through one its task forces well over a decade ago. Its core components--criminalization, mandatory criminal enforcement, and civil liability--have been proposed in dozens of states, although they have not passed everywhere proposed. The so-called "Right to Work" agenda has also been pressed by long-time ALEC member, the Right to Work Committee, and the corporations that underwrite anti-labor legislation across the country.
In fact, one of ALEC's first agenda items after its founding in the mid-1970s was advancing the "Right to Work" agenda, as documented in the image below. Both ALEC and the Right to Work Committee also trumpeted the passage of the extremely controversial Idaho "Right to Work" legislation in 1985. At the time, an ALEC Board Member--the Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives Tim Stivers--was instrumental in the adoption of the bill in his state and even defied a court order against its adoption, after the bill had been vetoed by the governor and challenged in court. The Idaho law is virtually identical to the ALEC model bill, and it has the same core provisions of criminal and civil liability and mandatory prosecution for violating the bar on union dues collection from free-riders, as does the Indiana bill.
Criminalizing Union Dues Collection, even in Parts of Indiana?
Unless opponents of the bill continue to deny the legislature the quorum needed to pass the bill or secure additional allies, Governor Daniels may sign into law this punitive bill that essentially reverses over 60 years of protections for unions and the workers they represent. Indiana has a deep tradition of trade union activities in the state that have sought to protect working families from corporate abuses and unfair practices. Governor Daniels, who served as an advisor to President Ronald Reagan, was working for Senator Lugar when the President rebuked the Polish Soviet era regime for its criminalization of the Solidarity union activities, noting that "the right to belong to a free trade union" is "one of the most elemental human rights."
In rallying in Indianapolis, workers are seeking to have their voices heard on these rights in the halls of power. They are asking that their lives and experiences be respected and not simply ignored by the majority in the legislature who have received indoctrination against labor rights in ALEC workshops and from corporate lobbyists with virtually unlimited access to their representatives. They are asking their elected representatives to stand with the 99% and not the 1%.
Some proponents of the long-standing ALEC "Right to Work" agenda continue to cite studies making unreliable claims about the economic impact of such laws, studies that are almost always funded by corporate CEOS, their foundations, or companies that oppose "unionism" as an ideological matter. Meanwhile, numerous careful analyses have documented the claimed benefits and the actual consequences of such laws and have found the quite natural result of weakened unions to be diminished wages and benefits for workers.
Even some conservatives have objected to how such laws interfere with private contracts between employers and employees, because "[m]andating that employees should have the 'right' to work outside of those contracts is unfair to employers, unions, and individuals. Anyone considering themselves ideologically libertarian, or even a believer in small government and laissez-faire capitalism, should oppose "Right to Work" laws on the grounds that any employer should have the right and freedom to enter into labor contracts with whomever they wish." Even a "pilot" program would interfere with private contracts and unsettle negotiated agreements while setting a precedent for weakening this "essential human right" statewide. Indiana workers are asking their representatives not to take any actions that will further depress the wages of workers and harm working families struggling to make ends meet by embracing the siren song of the ALEC "Right to Work" agenda.
Lisa Graves is the Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which publishes PRWatch.org, SourceWatch.org, and BanksterUSA.org. Our latest investigation is ALECexposed.org. She previously served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice and as Chief Counsel for Nominations for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, among other leadership posts. CMD does not accept grants from for-profit corporations or government agencies.