What Indiana's 'right to work' bill means for Obama, Big Labor and the U.S.

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Indiana is poised to become the first right to work state in America’s industrial heartland.

As Joe Biden might say, this is a “xo###@@#” big deal.

In yet another sign of Big Labor’s waning influence, Indiana’s House of Representatives has approved legislation that prohibits contracts requiring workers to pay union dues.

The bill, sponsored by Republicans, will almost surely pass the state’s senate, and be enthusiastically signed into law by Governor Mitch Daniels. That means that Indiana will be the first state in a decade to adopt the “right-to-work” rule.

This represents a solid win for those who believe that union labor costs and work rules have become an obstacle to job growth, and a frightening loss to labor leaders. It is an even more worrisome development to Democrats, who have long fed on Big Labor’s steady stream of campaign cash. In the 2010 election cycle, labor spent $96.7 million, 94% of which went to Democrats.

That doesn’t count the invaluable “get out the vote” organizing and other grass-roots efforts unions brought to the contest.

Labor leaders are frantically trying to put out anti-union bonfires across the country.

They may be fighting a losing battle. Americans’ affection for unions has been in decline, reaching an all-time low in 2009, at the height of the financial crisis.

The bail-outs of GM and Chrysler alerted an alarmed public to the crippling costs of union benefits. Pew Research reports that many more Americans think that unions hurt rather than help our country’s competitiveness.

With joblessness the nation’s number one concern, that’s not a winning perception. Anti-union sentiment has been reinforced by the growing number of cities and states that are grappling with excessive public employee pay.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sprang to national attention largely by taking on the teachers’ unions, explaining to his beleaguered constituents just why their state and local taxes were the highest in the nation.

This is by any reckoning a desperate time for organized labor. Union membership in the private sector has been shrinking for decades, while numerous organizing attempts in recent years have been cold-cocked.

Already this year labor has suffered a defeat as employees of a Texas electrical cooperative rejected the local union.

Last year, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s production and maintenance employees spurned union representation (for the third time in over six years) while similar efforts failed at a Target store in New York, a furniture maker in Virginia and a Texas sprinkler maker.  Formerly organized employees at a Dallas door manufacturing plant threw the union out.

In 2010, a fight to unionize various segments of Delta Airlines – the largest private sector organizing effort in 50 years—flopped despite the intrusion by the National Mediation Board, which demanded a do-over on one of the votes. (Two of the three members of the NMB are former union heads.)

This death-march for Big Labor drove President Obama to make two confrontational “recess” appointments to the National Labor Relations Board earlier this year – hires that may be more consequential than putting Richard Cordray in charge of the new consumer watchdog agency.

Why does it matter?

Because the NLRB has a mission – changing organizing and work rules so as to give new life to Big Labor.

In December, membership on the NLRB was down to three members. Notwithstanding a decades-long “unwavering practice” to require three affirmative votes, the two Democrats on the NLRB rammed through a ruling allowing the “fast-tracking” of union election disputes.

A vote was taken on the controversial amendment before the term of “recess appointee” David Becker expired – over the protests of Brian Hayes, the one remaining Republican on the board. So, a rule that makes union organizing easier, that could impact millions of American workers, was enacted by two Democrats, only one of whom had been confirmed by the Senate.

It will take effect April 30. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce calls it the “ambush election rule” and has filed suit to block its implementation.

This is the threatening nature of the no-holds barred Obama NLRB, a board that before the president’s recess appointments (and with the loss of Becker) did not have enough members to conduct business.

Board Chairman Mark Pearce recently declared in an interview that “he wants easier organizing rules”, and was cheered by the AFL-CIO, whose spokesman said the NLRB was trying to “create a level playing field.”

Some think the playing field has been tilted too radically in favor of organized labor, and in opposition to the best interests of the United States.

The ability of Indiana to become our 23rd “right to work” state suggests a mandate to correct that imbalance.

However, Big Labor will not give up easily. They have a powerful ally in the White House, and are now buttressed by a beefed up NLRB, suggesting titanic battles ahead.

The recess appointments to the NLRB are under scrutiny by the House; the proceedings of that body should be scrutinized by all.