The Power of Framing

During one hour of television tonight, I heard four repetitions of an ad in which Mitch Daniels explains that “this one simple law”–the deceptively named Right to Work law–will bring jobs to Indiana, and keep people from being forced to pay union dues. It was extremely well done.  Once during that hour,  I saw a much less persuasive ad calling Right to Work an “attack on working people.” Daniels had specific points to make; the opposing ad simply claimed the bill would be bad for workers. Advantage: Daniels.

Unfortunately for the policy process, Daniels’ specific points were simply untrue. The union ad would have been considerably more effective had it pointed that out.

Let’s begin with the way the administration is framing this issue. People shouldn’t be “forced” to pay “dues or fees” as a condition of employment. Put that way, it seems like a very reasonable position. But let’s ask a slightly different–and arguably more accurate–question: should some people be forced to provide services to their co-workers for free?

Let’s try an analogy: Let’s say you are a dues-paying member of a social club, and a guy you know says he want to come to the parties and enjoy the refreshments, but he doesn’t want to join the club. Fine, you say, just pay for your food and drink. But the visitor doesn’t even want to do that–indeed, he is highly offended by the suggestion.

That’s what Right to Work is really about–letting some folks “mooch” off the efforts of others.

Under current labor laws, no one has to join a union. But if you go to work in a union shop, you are required to pay your fair share of the costs of negotiation–your share of the amount paid to the people who represent you in dealings with management. You are required to pay for a benefit you receive. That’s it.

A lot of claims are being made by those who want to see this law passed, and most of them are either blatantly untrue or incredibly misleading. For example, the National Right to Work Committee has issued a “Fact Sheet” claiming–among other things–that job growth in Indiana was slower than the average job growth of Midwest states with Right to Work laws. Daniels echoes that assertion in his TV ad– but the claim is “true” only because one of those states is North Dakota, where oil fields were recently discovered, leading to a huge boom. If you exclude North Dakota, the remaining Right to Work States averaged a net job loss. Similarly, the Committee lauds Texas, a Right to Work state, for its job creation during the past decade–without bothering to mention that Texas’ job growth was all in the public sector, and entirely due to the growth of government–Texas private sector actually lost jobs during the past decade.

Other claims were similarly misleading. Independent research–as I noted in a previous post--finds absolutely no relationship between job creation and Right to Work laws, either positive or negative. The only documented effect of such laws is to weaken unions and reduce wages for both union and non-union workers.

So–one might ask–why is the Governor so determined to enact this legislation that he is willing to spend a fortune airing highly misleading TV ads? Why is he so intent upon ramming this through that he was willing to impose “safety” regulations that would keep union members from filling the Statehouse, until the public outcry made him rethink that tactic? The only reason I can think of is because such laws hurt unions, and unions generally support Democrats. It’s purely political.

But you’ve got to give Daniels and the Republicans credit: they are one hell of a lot better at framing this issue than the Democrats are in explaining it.


  1. Fact is we’re all free-riders on the labor movement. Some of us just acknowledge it.

  2. Excellent summing up of the situation, the facts and the sad ineptitude of Democrats and Progressives in framing issues.

  3. Walking out from the elected position you pledged to serve in representing your constituency, is not a tactic that endears most voters either.

    When we believe things aren’t going well at our respective jobs and responsibilities, wouldn’t it be grand to just walk away from them, knowing that we can return later, perhaps not even miss being paid? At a time when millions are still out of work, our economy still dreadful, foreclosures still rampant, we’re to be sympathetic and impressed by the “devotion” to one side of an issue, by virtue of complete abdication of the elected duty to serve?

    “Public servants” such as these are worthy of reelection? Next time my daughter’s basketball team is not happy with the calls by the referee, they should leave the court? While our “Affordable Care” Act was being hammered out behind closed doors, after hours, and away from media scrutiny, the Republicans should have vacated Washington D.C. in protest?

    I detest the irresponsibility and corruption of both parties. My historical understanding, is the Republicans have been known to walk out of the Indiana statehouse as well. But, this country and state desperately need participation- not walkouts,, reaffirmation- not further decimation of our institutions, in this live civics lesson before us (a topic, I believe, of vital interest to this blog).

    Are we to demonstate to our children how we conduct ourselves as citizens, both when things are going our way and when they aren’t?

  4. The Republicans in a fascinating and shocking departure from everything they have stood for in the past are now pushing a piece of legislation that seeks to have Hoosier workers subsidize freeloaders. Businesses would never be asked to provide any service or product for Free. The only organization being asked to do this by force of law are organizations representing Hoosier workers. Why the double standard?

  5. There it is, not so complicated. I tried to hand them this framing at different points.

  6. I figured all the liberals endorsed the idea of “…–letting some folks “mooch” off the efforts of others.” Much of our nation’s social welfare system is build on this concept. I’m a bit surprised that Ms. Kennedy isn’t endorsing “right to work” for this very reason.

  7. Actually, union workers end up paying for far more than their “fair share of the costs of negotiation.” Their dues also pay for all the political activism and other non-work-related activities of their union, everything from more-or-less on-target campaigns like the anti-right-to-work ads to ads for political candidates the work herself might personally oppose.

    They have to pay for all that unless they are willing to do all the paperwork and give up the right to vote on contacts and officers by declaring themselves “financial core” members, who pay only the core costs and are not barred from taking non-union jobs. It’s very popular among actors (it expands their work opportunities), much less well-known elsewhere.

    Also, under RTW, non-union workers do not necessarily receive the same pay levels and benefits as union workers. In a perfect world, that’s suboptimal; in a world where the an employer can’t afford to fill the job at union scale, it’s one more job that would not otherwise exist. Maybe not a good job, but better than no job. (Dealing with this where I work. Openings are not filled. We’re probably more efficient but there are fewer jobs than there were three years ago — and will be even less in future).

    The issue is not nearly as clear or simple as either side would like to have it.

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