The Right to Work...The Right to Die without benefits
By Rick Yencer
MUNCIE, IN - Ball State University students got a lesson in money and people during a talk about the recent Right to Work law and how people who already worked their entire life lost their jobs and benefits working in hometown factories.
The exercise was part of the Freshman Common Reader that explores issues facing college students like whether there is even an economy that will support them besides the impact of Right to Work and labor unions will have on their lives..
Judging from the panel of a historian, a steelworker, a political scientist and a retired auto worker, the issue of Right to Work like so many other things comes down to money and people.
James Connolly, who directs the Center for Middletown Studies, told how labor unions had been under attack for 60 years first with Taft Hartley that restricted collective bargaining and later with RTW that prohibits employers from requiring anyone from becoming or remaining a union member or pay dues or other fees. That essentially strips a union of members and money and allowing employers to set any wage they want outside of collective bargaining.
Bruce Reynolds, a retired Borg Warner Automotive worker, told the horrific story of how the hometown company that went international a few generations ago finally shut down its local union plant, and then ended health insurance and pension benefits for retirees. The UAW went to court, and as some Borg Warner retirees say, the company is just waiting for them to die as the litigation continues with no settlement.
"It is a sad state for what unions have become today," said Reynolds.
While Gov. Mitch Daniels and Republican lawmakers insisted companies would not locate in Indiana unless RTW passed, the truth is that many new companies even like Progress Rail pay only $10-$12 an hour.
Steelworker Penny Lehman said many of the new jobs only paid $10 an hour and after taxes, workers only earned less than $300 which is under poverty level. And the biggest employer like Wal-Mart pay minimum wage and no benefits while usually firing anyone who says the word union.
And Lehman said students like adults should know they foster an economy of low wages and no benefits, buying cell phones and other handheld devices made in China in factory cities where workers are only paid a couple dollars an hour.
Ray Scheele, who directs the Bowen Center for Public Affairs likened labor unions to a social movement that had a violent start when United Auto Workers led by Walter Reuther were beaten and killed by Pinkerton guards working for auto giant Henry Ford.
"The public said that was wrong," said Scheele and modern unions were born.
Indiana just became the first Midwest state to adopt RTW just in time for the Super Bowl and to show that Republicans and their business partners had firm control over the state. Democrats and their labor friends now find themselves in the minority with little hope of regaining their majority or even more members in the Legislature where Republicans hold both houses..
The panel generally agreed that students will be impacted by RTW as they find good pay and benefits will be hard to find in an economy controlled by the rich and powerful.