• A few facts on Common Construction Wages, labor policy in Indiana

    It seems that Indiana is about to repeal its Common Construction Wage law. You might be upset by the news, or you might be supportive of the idea. Or you might be thinking, “What the heck is the Common Construction Wage?”

    The law stipulates that most government construction contracts must have workers’ wages determined by a local committee comprised of union and government officials. The law was enacted in 1935 to ensure fair wages, and usually sets wages near union levels.

    Well, that’s probably not going to be the case anymore in Indiana, as a repeal has passed the State legislature, while Governor Mike Pence has yet to sign it but is a vocal supporter of it. They insist that it’s purely in the interests of lowering costs on public construction projects, despite detractors’ claims that it will bring lower wages to Indiana workers, attract out-of-state workers, and hurt unions.

    This comes a little more than three years after Indiana passed a right-to-work bill. For those who don’t know what right-to-work laws are, put simply, they allow workers in a workplace to receive the same terms and benefits of a union contract without having to join a union or pay its dues. Ostensibly about freedom of choice, these laws and their benefits to workplaces and local economies are controversial. There’s little argument, however, that unions have a much weaker presence in states with right-to-work laws.

    Pence has also spoken highly of Wisconsin Governor and 2016 Presidential candidate Scott Walker. Walker, you might remember, made a name for himself by outlawing collective bargaining by public employees in his state.

    So, is the repeal of the Common Construction Wage law really about the interests of the state and its taxpayers? Or is it about weakening unions and increasing the power of corporations while leaving workers at their mercy? You decide. I’m just stating the facts...

  • Halfway through 2016, what's come to pass?

    July is finally here and with it came the halfway point for 2016. I know, it went by fast, right?

    A lot has happened these past six months, for sure. But what has been happening around the Region? And more importantly, halfway through, are my predictions for what would happen this year coming true, or do I look like fool?

    Let’s take a look:

    • Obviously, the results of the state’s Governor and Senate races remain to be seen. Until Indiana makes its decision, these goes down as a no-decisions.
    • The Dunes pavilion banquet hall looks like it’s going to get its liquor license. Point for me.
    • Barely a peep so far this year on that South Shore expansion. But I was right about seeing bikes on the train. Two points.
    • The USW and ArcelorMittal agreed on a new three-year contract. That’s a welcome bit of good news for the local steel industry, especially amidst the reports of closures and layoffs that seemed frequent for a little while there. I’m not sure this will put an end to market uncertainty in the face of globalization, but I’ll happily surrender a point here with this outcome.
    • Is Illinois still dysfunctional? Consider the saga of the George Lucas Museum that wasn’t: The city wanted it. The state wanted it. Communities in need of jobs wanted it. Star Wars lovers from Portage to Milwaukee to Peoria wanted it. The only ones who didn’t want it were a handful of people dedicated to the preservation of the city’s parks, even though the park land in question was actually a parking lot. And in the end, they won, scaring Lucas off and killing the project. Obviously, this is small potatoes compared the state’s other problems, but  I'm focusing on it because dysfunction that’s comical is in rather short supply, and i'm trying to do something light and fun here. I’m taking the point on this one.
    • The World Series is still months away, but the Chicago Cubs are looking tough. When people talk about them having a chance, they’re serious, not saying that with an eye roll or a caveat about curses. Coincidentally, this season has corresponded with the U.K. voting to leave the European Union, which some alarmists are saying is the first step toward the splintering of Europe and other disastrous worldwide repercussions. So unless the Cubs fall into a post-All-Star Game swoon, maybe it isn’t too late to start preparing for the apocalypse…

    So, thus far, my predictions stand at three correct, one incorrect, and three to be determined. Not bad…

  • Labor still alive in NWI, but does it have power?

    It’s been a tough few years for unions in Northwest Indiana, between the state’s 2012 right-to-work law and other legislative blows, and the industrial sectors crucial to this area being, shall we say, less than fruitful lately. Now, it seems like 2015 could be shaping up to be a moment of truth for organized labor in the area, and how much power it still has here.

    Despite anti-union legislation, union membership has remained steady, even slightly increasing since 2012. And earlier this year, the refinery strike made it known that unionized workers were willing to take action.

    The refinery workers got what they wanted from BP (mainly new safety measures) after a few months. Although some hearsay seemed to question the need to strike in the negotiations, it’s still a victory for the union.

    But the next big labor battle, steel mills, looks a lot more uphill.

    ArcelorMittal has proposed cuts to workers’ health insurance benefits during recent negotiations. Steelworkers are understandably not thrilled at the proposal.

    I generally side with workers, but I’m not too optimistic in this case. ArcelorMittal’s Indiana facilities have apparently lost hundreds of millions each year over the last half-decade, and there’s even been talks of closing some of them (which the company denied, but the idea still hangs over this whole situation). That financial reality seems to put them in a stronger place at the negotiating table.

    I don’t foresee the end of unions in the Region once and for all should labor lose this fight. But even if they come out of this as winners, it could be a short-term victory. They may get a contract for another few years out of ArcelorMittal, but no union has the clout to take on the reality of the steel market and the forces of globalization.