Jan. 26, 2005 – In one of his first moves in office, newly elected Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana rescinded the rights of highway police, hospital attendants, mechanics and other state workers to collectively bargain for wage and hour increases, working conditions and other benefits.
On January 11, Daniels, a Republican and former Bush administration official, unilaterally eliminated the unionization rights and contracts of approximately 25,000 state employees, effectively shredding agreements that were set to last as late as 2007. Although Daniels' election campaign platform had addressed issues affecting state employees in detail, it made no note of any intention to drastically alter labor arrangements for some two-thirds of the state's government workforce.
"Public employees have no voice whatsoever now," said David Warrick, Indianaâ€™s executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). "Without a collective voice it will be much easier for [the governor] to fire people or only give raises to those that he thinks deserve them. Thereâ€™s an atmosphere of shock that the governor would do this."
Because state employee wages are paid with tax dollars, federal labor law reasons that raises and other benefits should be negotiated with the public at large, and it does not afford state employees the same legal rights to bargain directly with employers that it extends to private and federal employees. In only about ten states do government workers enjoy comprehensive labor rights afforded by the state legislatures; in pockets throughout the country, governors dictate employee rights.
"The person who understands the barriers to efficient government is that front-line clerk who has to deal with angry people every day." -- Steve Fantauzzo, AFSCME
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has rescinded union rights for many federal employees, and in the last two years, Republican governors in Kentucky and Missouri have also eroded the power of labor unions. Labor activists and academics throughout the country are watching such recent actions closely to determine what they may mean for the labor movementâ€™s future.
"What a roller coaster," said David Piper, professor of industrial and labor relations at Indiana University of Pennsylvania "This goes against everything weâ€™ve taught for 27 years: â€˜you negotiate a contract, and then youâ€™re stuck with it.â€™ Well, apparently not."
For Indiana state employees, the news has hit hard. The past three governors had upheld a policy that allowed state workers to bargain for better pay, benefits and working conditions.
Warrick said such union contracts have greatly changed the workplace for state employees. Since 1990, when then Indiana Governor Evan Bayh issued an Executive Order to create collective bargaining rights for state employees, the International Union of Police Associations and AFSCME, along with an alliance between the American Federation of Teachers and the United Auto Workers called the Unity Team, helped employees access their vacation time, establish seniority rights, gain access to job training and additional education, and achieve some of the highest wage increases in the nation. Some workers saw as much as a 20 percent pay increase in one year.
"Before [Bayhâ€™s Executive Order], management and labor were always bumping heads. The atmosphere was just horrible," says Warrick. "The biggest notable change has been that the us versus them attitudes had just eroded away, and we had gotten to a place where we worked together for common goals."
But Gov. Daniels says such gains for employees have made government less efficient. Provisions that would require government to give unions 30 days notice before reorganizing state departments would prevent the Governor from transferring employees to newly formed agencies. Furthermore, says Daniels, taxpayers paid for thousands of hours that was not devoted to public service, but to union-related activities. That is not an option in a state with a $1.5 billion deficit, spokespeople for the governor argue.
By rescinding the state employees labor policy, Daniels was able to swiftly make good on campaign promises to create a Department of Child Services and to consolidate twelve separate Information Technology departments into one single office of state government.
"The Governor is committed to improving state service and to providing due process to employees," Jane Jankowski, a spokesperson for Gov. Daniels, told TNS. "He thinks he can do both at the same time."
Critics say that is unlikely: without bargaining power, workers will have little leverage. Although the governor has given workers the right to appeal firings, demotions and unpaid suspensions to the State Employeesâ€™ Appeals Commission, workersâ€™ advocates consider the appeals process an insignificant source of hope. The Commission is a five-member board appointed by the governor, and in the past it has only overturned two percent of management decisions in favor of employees.
Furthermore, critics say, including rather than dismissing unions is the way to go. "[Danielsâ€™] argument about needing more efficiency is false," said Steve Fantauzzo, regional director for AFSCME. "Nothing that youâ€™re going to do in state government is going to move more quickly than 30 daysâ€¦ The loss is the real input by state rank and file workers; the person who understands the barriers to efficient government is that front-line clerk who has to deal with angry people every day."
Union officials say they plan to fight the new decision. This coming weekend in Indiana, presidents of all the local AFSCME chapters and representatives from the other impacted unions, are meeting to draw up a plan that would utilize the media and a public education campaign in order to convince the governor to reinstate worker rights. The Unity Team says it is considering a lawsuit.
Still, some labor leaders say reversing or even modifying Danielsâ€™ decision is likely a long shot. Since the labor policy was never technically a contract, it may not be judiciously enforceable. Plus, with a Republican-dominated legislature, any attempt at a collective bargaining bill is considered hopeless. They say the best chance may lie in a long-term campaign that would target key legislative districts in hopes of a more union-friendly state politicians after the next election.
Beyond Indianaâ€™s borders, the actions of Governor Daniels may have national implications.
"This sends the message that collective bargaining is illegitimate, that itâ€™s not necessary public policy," says Bob Bussel, director of University of Oregonâ€™s Labor Education and Research Center. "The message has a ripple effect, and there is a concern that other states may do this too."