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COLUMN

Fighting 'right to work' won't cure what ails organized labor

Membership decline indicates unions' value -- and values -- are being questioned

Saturday, September 14, 2013 - 6:20 am

On a conservative local radio talk show the other day, the host and callers were blasting a Lake County judge's recent declaration that Indiana's year-old right-to-work violates the state Constitution.

The liberals are doing it again, they agreed, trying to do in court what they couldn't achieve at the ballot box.

Historically speaking, the complaint largely would be accurate – at least until conservatives started asking judges to block the legally if unwisely enacted Obamacare. But for all the constitutional principles supposedly at stake, the right-to-work fight is about nothing more precious than money, and unions' desperate desire to remain relevant.

And, of course, a certain amount of hypocrisy.

The legislation gives workers more choice over whether to join a union, and supporters – mostly Republicans -- claimed passage would draw more jobs to Indiana. Opponents warned the “right to work for less” bill would simply lead to further wage erosion. It's probably too soon to assess the bill's impact one way or another, but there seems to have been no dramatic influx of jobs. And the salaries of the jobs that are here, at least in Allen County, are losing ground to the national average.

But Lake County Judge John Sedia didn't justify his ruling on the basis of the law's effectiveness any more than Attorney General Greg Zoeller will mount an appeal on that basis. Instead, Sedia sided with the International Union of Operating Engineers' contention that the Indiana Constitution prohibits the delivery of services “without just compensation.”

Whether Sedia's ruling was sound or will stand, I can't say. But you don't have to be an attorney to notice the irony in the union's argument.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 11.3 percent of salaried Americans were members of unions in 2012, down from a peak of about 35 percent in 1954. Right-to-work can't be blamed for such a prolonged and dramatic decline. Could part of the problem be that too many unions have for too long contradicted the very argument they made in court by demanding “just compensation without services”?

Unions have their place, but when they protect lazy or incompetent employees, demand unsustainable pay and benefits or discourage individual initiative or excellence, they inevitably undermine the very corporations upon which their members' jobs depend. There are myriad reasons for Detroit's social and economic miseries, but the city's long dependence upon one union-dominated industry is certainly among them. In 2010, a Detroit TV station filmed 13 United Auto Workers members drinking and smoking pot near the plant during work hours, but after Chrysler fired them the workers filed grievances and they were reinstated.

I'll take right-to-work over right-to-loaf any time. So would employers and, I suspect, most workers. Hard-working people who see value in unions should be willing to pay for them, but who wants to be compelled to support unions that defend the indefensible?

Meanwhile, many of the unions who lobbied for Obamacare are now seeking changes to protect themselves from its anticipated expense. “”If (the bill) is not fixed and it destroys the health and welfare funds we have fought for and stand for, then I believe it needs to be repealed,” said the Republican-sounding Terence M. O'Sullivan, president of the Laborer's International Union of North America.

Surely he doesn't expect union members to receive health care without providing “just compensation” for it. Does he?

Filling Wyss' seat could open another

Long-time State Sen. Tom Wyss' decision not to seek re-election will apparently create an opening on Allen County Council.

Council President Darren Vogt said he will seek nomination for Wyss' seat in next May's Republican primary. As a result, he said, he does not expect to be a candidate in the Council primary. “I've got a good case to make to the voters,” said Vogt, an insurance agent in his third term.

Also expressing interest are Sheriff Ken Fries, barred by law from a third term, and former City Councilwoman Liz Brown.

Time running out?

Hopes of saving a 125-year-old brick house at 1205 Fairfield Ave. from the wrecking ball seem to be fading.

In June, I wrote about how the city was willing to give the house to historic preservation group ARCH when clearing 2.7 acres near Parkview Field for future development. ARCH hoped to find a buyer who would move the house to a nearby vacant lot and restore it. But ARCH Executive Director Mike Galbraith said many of the home's original interior features have been removed for salvage, making it less attractive.

Demolition of the block is imminent, but Redevelopment Director Greg Leatherman said the house will be spared as long as possible, just in case a buyer can still be found.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com, or call him at 461-8355.