Monday, December 17, 2012

Michigan, meet Indiana: Blaming unions

Posted By on Mon, Dec 17, 2012 at 4:00 AM

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Indiana made the national news last week. And not just because the girls' basketball team at Arlington High School lost a game by 105 points.

In story after story, Indiana was cited as having inspired Michigan's Republican-controlled House and Senate to pass legislation enabling nonunion workers in unionized shops to opt out of paying union dues, even though the unions negotiate contracts on their behalf.

This legislation is commonly called "right to work." Its detractors call it "right to work for less" because they see it as a device for undermining unions. Chief executives and Chamber of Commerce types are all for undermining unions because, as far as they're concerned, paying workers less and providing fewer benefits helps them compete better in the global marketplace.

Which is another way of saying it makes working conditions here a little more like those in China.

In any event, it is remarkable the extent to which Indiana has become a guiding light for other Midwestern states. This is due, in large part, to the job Gov. Mitch Daniels has done. Daniels has been a role model for his fellow Republican governors, like Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio and now Michigan's Rick Snyder. Daniels provided them with what amounts to a playbook on how to take control of a state government and they have been eager to follow his lead.

What these governors see in Indiana represents the end-all and be-all of public policy as far as today's Republican politicians are concerned: a balanced budget, low taxes and a state surplus.

Like Indiana, all of these states were once known for a manufacturing prowess that, over the past generation or two, has fallen into decline - hence the desire to stick it to the unions.

The idea seems to be that states where workers have no power to bargain with their bosses for improved pay, benefits and/or working conditions, are bound to attract new business. As an anonymous CEO put it on "Indiana is centrally located, has a balanced budget and excess reserves on hand, is a low overall tax environment, is business friendly and is now a right-to-work state. If you want to locate in the Midwest, there is no other state in its class."

This CEO could have added something about how Indiana's having super Republican majorities in both houses of its state legislature, not to mention a new governor named Pence, promises to make this a regulation-free zone for the foreseeable future, free from pesky environmental and workplace safeguards. But I guess that would have been gilding the lily.

It's no wonder so many Republicans considered Daniels the most qualified guy for their party's presidential nomination before last November's election. He's done everything in Indiana that they want to do to the country as a whole. If you listen closely, you can hear echoes of Daniels' voice now, in the wrangling over how to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. The belief that government's most important job, even in the teeth of the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, is to maintain a balanced budget, is Daniels through and through.

You could say this makes Indiana a preview of the America Republicans dream about.

So what's that like? To begin with, if you work in Indiana the chances are you make less money than your peers in other states. Indiana ranks 42nd in the nation in per capita income. With our right-to-work law, that number could dip a little more.

But that's OK. Surely our business-friendly atmosphere means that Hoosiers are being hired at a brisk clip.

Well, not exactly. As The Indianapolis Star recently reported, private-sector job growth actually fell during Mitch Daniels' eight years in office. Indiana lost 1.3 percent of its private-sector jobs under Daniels, whereas these jobs increased by 1.2 percent nationally.

Thank heavens our taxes are low. The only trouble is, we get what we (don't) pay for. Another national news story last week revealed that, for the first time, Indiana ranks in the bottom 10 in the country in terms of public health. We're 41st, according to the United Health Foundation, down four places from last year. This places us among such worthies as Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and West Virginia.

I could go on. Apparently the education level of our workforce ranks in the bottom 10 nationally. We have the second-to-worst air pollution in the U.S.

But, hey: Indiana is a great state for business.

"This is not simply a matter of preference, of convenience, but ... many of our neighbors would have a job, or a better job, if we made this change ... "

That was Mitch Daniels, at the beginning of his first term as governor. He was talking about what a difference adopting daylight saving time would make to our economy. Eight years later, we fall back and spring ahead with the best of states. Somehow, though, resetting our clocks twice a year hasn't turned into jobs. Unemployment here is actually higher than the national average.

At least we've put the unions in their place. Michigan, knock yourself out.

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