Right to Work Indiana’s Employment Revival

From 2012 to 2019, Number of Employed Hoosiers Soared by 369,000

At the beginning of 2012, the public debate over whether Indiana should adopt a Right to Work law barring the termination of employees for refusal to join or bankroll a union was intensifying.

On January 3 that year, the Big Labor-founded Economic Policy Institute (EPI) issued a skewed study dismissing the possibility that such a law would bring any economic benefits to the Hoosier State and its employees.

Over the course of the following month, elected officials in Indianapolis ignored Big Labor’s preferred economists and passed the nation’s 23rd state Right to Work law, giving Hoosiers a chance to see if the D.C. Beltway-based, pro-forced unionism “think tank” was right.

‘I Probably Underestimated How Important . . . [Right to Work] Was Going to Be’

Now, it should be obvious to all that the EPI was wrong.

At the time then-Gov. Mitch Daniels signed Indiana’s Right to Work law, which took effect immediately on February 1, 2012, the state’s economy had, according to key measures, been stagnant or even declining for many years. 

For example, U.S. Labor Department data show that, in 2012 as a whole, the total number of people employed in Indiana was lower than it had been in 1994 or in 2004.

But within a few weeks after the law banning the termination of employees for refusal to pay union dues or fees went on the books, Mr. Daniels, himself only a late 2011 convert to the Right to Work cause, publicly commented on how much easier his business-recruitment efforts had become. 

On Monday, March 12, 2012, Mr. Daniels reported:

“We’ve already signed new agreements with three companies. One announced and two soon to come.

“There are 31 companies as of Friday night in negotiation roles who have identified right to work as a major, if not the major, factor in their interest in Indiana. . . .

“I probably underestimated how important an addition to our . . . business climate [right to work] was going to be.”

Indeed, from 2012 to 2019, the last year for which annual Labor Department data are available at this writing, the number of employed people in Indiana soared by nearly 370,000. 

In 2019, total employment was more than 200,000 higher than the Hoosier State’s pre-Right to Work peak in 2006.

Average Weekly Earnings Up Nearly Twice as Much as CPI Inflation

National Right to Work Committee Vice President John Kalb commented:

“The sustained rise in employment from 2012 to 2019, and an extremely strong rebound in employment since early 2020’s COVID-19 lockdowns were eased last summer, are two signs among many pointing to better times for employees and businesses since Indiana’s Right to Work law took effect.

“Another example is the average weekly earnings for private-sector Indiana employees as reported by the U.S. Labor Department.

“From 2012 to 2019, they grew from less than $742 to nearly $898. That’s a 21% rise, nearly double the rate of inflation over the same period according to the Consumer Price Index [CPI-U].” 

Right to Work Indiana total employment and average weekly pay
In the seven years that immediately followed Indiana’s Right to Work adoption, the total number of employed Hoosiers grew every year. Prior to 2012, the state’s employment had stagnated for nearly two decades.

Freedom-loving Hoosiers’ Right to Work victory helped prompt four other states to pass and implement Right to Work laws in the years since. 

It could never have occurred without years of careful preparation.

In 2003, Indiana citizens who were determined to free themselves and their fellow Hoosiers from the shackles of compulsory unionism launched what they knew from the start would be a sustained, and often difficult, effort to pass a Right to Work law.

Landmark 2012 Victory Came Only After Nearly a Decade Of Mobilization Efforts

Subsequently, the organization these citizens put in high gear in 2003, the Indiana Right to Work Committee, mobilized an ever-loudening drum beat of support for employee freedom and built up opposition to forced unionism in the state Legislature.

Over the course of the long campaign, the Indianapolis-based Right to Work group benefited repeatedly from the counsel and experience of the National Right to Work Committee.

And National Committee members and supporters living in the Hoosier State were the bulwark of the Indiana Right to Work campaign.

“The employment revival, steadily rising employee earnings, and — most important of all — the expanded personal freedom Hoosiers have enjoyed since 2012 vindicate all the effort that went into making Indiana a Right to Work state,” concluded Mr. Kalb.