Ironically the state of Indiana, whose legislators just adopted a so called “right-to-work” (should be called “right to work for less”) law, is hosting the Super Bowl tomorrow. It’s ironic because, not so long ago, NFL owners were threatening to lock out the football players. Owners wanted more games from the players and less sharing of the profits. Months ago, I attended a press conference hosted by the NFL players union, which argued forcefully on behalf of the players and was ultimately able to win rights and protections for players. The union made it possible not only for players to preserve rights but also made it possible for management and labor to come to a mutually satisfactory agreement and keep the season moving forward. So the season ensued, and now millions of football fans will be able to watch Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.
What’s a right-to-work law anyway? Well, unions are legally required to equally represent all employees covered by a contract, whether or not they pay a cent in union fees. That representation includes contract negotiations and arbitration over grievances (in fact, unions sometimes go out of their way to pursue cases on behalf of critics, lest they file charges against the union). Barring unions from requiring employees to pay fees for these costs is an effective way to defund them and that is what right-to-work laws are intended to do.
I personally would have liked to see the NFL players union refuse to play in Indiana after it enacted this odious, anti-worker law. It could have been a great teaching moment, i.e., what is a right-to-work law and why is it anti-worker? In fairness, the National Football League Players’ Association did express strong objections to the law, but refusing to play would have really made Americans stand up and notice.
Right-to-work laws now exist in 23 states. According to the Economic Policy Institute, right-to-work laws don’t do what proponents say they do: help create jobs and raise wages. Instead, right-to-work laws reduce wages by an average of $1,500 a year, lower the likelihood that union and non-union employees receive health care coverage or pensions through their jobs, and have no positive impact on job growth in states that adopt them.
Indiana’s law new law is a sad development and aggressively anti-union. If only the millions of football fans knew what an important role the NFL players union played in negotiating a settlement on behalf of the workers – the football teams in this case – and got the players back on the field so we can all enjoy the Super Bowl Sunday night.