Indiana, Right to Work and Super Bowl

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Indiana was the site of two well-publicized worker struggles in February. One was between union workers of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), as the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. The other was unionized workers pushing back against recently passed legislation that made Indiana a “right to work” state.

So called “right to work” legislation prevents agreements between unions and employers that require non-union members to pay representation fees. The legislation allows non-union workers to benefit from collective bargaining without having to pay union dues. It will then be likely that fewer people will become members of their workplace union, which will weaken the union’s bargaining power.

After going through their own acrimonious labor negotiations that led to a lockout, the NFL Players Association was public in their opposition to Indiana’s anti-labor proposals. In a statement, the NFLPA said: “NFL players know what it means to fight for workers’ rights, better pensions and health and safety in the workplace. To win, we have to work together and look out for one another. Today, even as the city of Indianapolis is exemplifying that teamwork in preparing to host the Super Bowl, politicians are looking to destroy it trying to ram through so-called ‘right-to-work’ legislation. ‘Right-to-work’ is a political ploy designed to destroy basic workers’ rights. . . The facts are clear – according to a January 2012 Economic Policy Institute briefing report (Working Hard to Make Indiana Look Bad), ‘right-to-work’ will lower wages for a worker in Indiana by $1,500 a year because it weakens the ability of working families to work together, and it will make it less likely that working people will get health care and pensions. . . As Indianapolis proudly prepares to host the Super Bowl it should be a time to shine in the national spotlight and highlight the hard working families that make Indiana run instead of launching political attacks on their basic rights. It is important to keep in mind the plight of the average Indiana worker and not let them get lost in the ceremony and spectacle of such a special event. This Super Bowl should be about celebrating the best of what Indianapolis has to offer, not about legislation that hurts the people of Indiana.”

NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith frequently publicized supportive comments in favor of Indiana workers and even marched on the UNITE HERE picket line in front of the Indianapolis Hyatt, a major site of alleged labor abuses and labor organizing efforts.

Rank-and-file union workers also made connections between the Super Bowl and the anti-worker proposals in Indiana. While no protests disrupted the game and major unions officially shied away from “politicizing the Super Bowl,” hundreds of workers protested at the Indiana State House on Super Bowl Sunday. The Super Bowl union issue was further politicized in certain TV markets as the anti-union Center On Union Facts ran an ad featuring very misleading statistics about labor unions.

While the Super Bowl has come and gone, the fight for Indiana workers and union rights continues.

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