Governor Mitch Daniels. Image via Wikipedia
Democrats in the Indiana House of Representatives have staged their own walkout, copying their colleagues in the Wisconsin Senate. But in Indiana, the issue that has Democrats up in arms isn't collective bargaining for public employees; it's a proposed Right to Work law that would apply to the private sector. (A Right to Work law prohibits a business from making it a condition of employment to join a union or pay union dues.)
Also unlike in Wisconsin, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (R) has said he won't send the state police after the missing Democratic legislators, and he's urging his Republican colleagues in the House to drop the bill and attend to other business. Unsurprisingly, Daniels is catching some heat from conservatives over this, but he's making the right choice. Here's why.
As of 2010, only 8.2 percent of private-sector workers in Indiana were members of unions. That's a bit above the national average of 6.9 percent, owing to the state's industrial base, but it's also falling faster than in most states: down 37 percent in the last decade, compared to 22 percent nationally. Private firms don't appear to fear excessive union power in Indiana; indeed, the state has had significant success in drawing non-union Japanese auto factories.
In Indiana, even moreso than in the country as a whole, private sector unionization is inexorable decline. So what's the point in spending a bunch of political capital on a fight with private sector unions, especially when private sector unions have lately shown a willingness to back conservative reforms in the public sector?
While opposing Right to Work, Daniels has fought to restrain collective bargaining in the public sector. He abolished collective bargaining for state workers by executive order in 2005. And now that Republicans hold legislative majorities in both houses, he's backing Senate Bill 575, which would limit the scope of collective bargaining for teachers to include only wages and benefits. The bill would also allow school districts to assign their own contract terms if negotiations with a union fail after 60 days.
If I were an Indiana lawmaker, I'd go further and seek to abolish collective bargaining for teachers entirely--though, given the power that SB 575 would give school boards to impose their own contract terms, the unions are warning that it is tantamount to ending collective bargaining, and they may be right. In any case, the bill would make it easier for school districts to implement reforms and to control costs, and it's a good place for Daniels to invest his political capital.
Daniels called for reforms along the lines of SB 575 in his State of the State speech last month, and subsequently the bill was approved by a State Senate committee. Daniels warned in December that a push on Right to Work could "wreck the chances for education reform and local government reform and criminal justice reform and the things we have a wonderful chance to do" and he seems to be maintaining that position by opposing the Right to Work bill, urging Democratic lawmakers to return to work, and backing SB 575.