Union membership down, but effects of Right to Work unclear

Jan 28, 2013

The fears of opponents of Indiana’s Right to Work law appear to be bolstered by statistics showing a significant decrease in the state’s union membership since 2011.  But leaders on both sides of the debate say Right to Work likely had little effect.

Union membership in Indiana dropped about 20% from 2011 to 2012, just as Indiana’s Right to Work law, which prohibits union contracts that require workers to pay dues for representation, went into effect. 

But Indiana AFL-CIO president Nancy Guyott says there are other factors at play which contributed to the drop in membership.

“The squeezing of many public service jobs quite clearly seems to be at risk,” Guyott said. “That’s just people losing their jobs; if they had those jobs, they’d probably choose to be union members.”

Carmel Republican Representative Jerry Torr, who authored the Right to Work measure, says a membership deacline can be both positive and negative. 

On one side, he says there are some unions that provide valuable training and services for their members.

“And there are some unions that unfortunately tend to just siphon money off so the fat cats can go vacation and don’t provide that much service,” Torr said.

Torr says Right to Work will help workers unhappy with their union voice that unhappiness by declining to pay dues. 

Guyott says every union in Indiana benefits its workers and the community at large by helping provide higher wages and better working conditions.