The Times of Northwest Indiana: Unions enjoying resurgence in ranks, popularity

Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From The Times of Northwest Indiana:

by Joseph S. Pete

The death of unions turns out to be greatly exaggerated, at least in Indiana.

Union membership has surged in the past two years in Indiana since the passage of a right-to-work law in 2012, confounding expectations of many.

Indiana had 299,000 union members last year, up from 249,000 union members in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union membership, which dipped as low as 9.1 percent of the workforce in 2012, was back to 10.7 percent of the workforce in 2014.

And the number of Indiana workers who are represented by unions in their workplace, but not necessarily dues-paying members, rose to 335,000 last year, which is 12 percent of the total workforce.

The rhetoric is that unions – which represented a quarter of all American workers as recently as 1980 – are dying, a relic of a bygone age. But Northwest Indiana and much of the state remain bastions of the labor movement.  

Storefronts along 119th Street in downtown Whiting were filled with signs supporting the striking United Steelworkers earlier this year when BP refinery workers hit the picket lines. Thousands of union members have turned up to recent rallies outside steel mills in East Chicago, downtown Gary and Burns Harbor. As steel contract talks have dragged on, steelworkers have maintained solidarity to defend health care benefits even after the import-battered steel companies handed out thousands of pink slips nationwide.

A recent Gallup poll found 58 percent of Americans support unions, a dramatic increase of five percentage points over the 2007 level, when unions only enjoyed support from 53 percent of the public. And Indiana's "right-to-work" legislation, which unions characterized as "right to work for less," has failed to put a dent in union membership since it was passed in 2012.

The state's right-to-work law prohibits union security agreements that make paying union dues a condition of employment. Unions say it was a union-busting move meant to harm them financially.

However, union membership skyrocketed in Indiana by nearly 18 percent between 2012 and 2014.

Read the full article from The Times of Northwest Indiana.