MERRILLVILLE – That television commercial for Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner needs a bit of rewriting. The ad features the governors of three states bordering Illinois.
The point of the commercial is that Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, a Democrat, is blocking Rauner’s agenda, which is resulting in businesses and jobs fleeing from Illinois to the three surrounding states. At one point, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb boasts that his state is growing union jobs faster than Illinois.
Not so fast, governor. The fact of the matter is that Indiana is losing union jobs – lots of them. It has taken a while, but the state now is seeing the impact of the 2012 right-to-work law that was approved by the Republicans controlling the Legislature. Despite Republican denials, the law was intended to eat away at the number of union members in the state. Business and industry backed the law because it allows them to pay lower wages than they were paying union members. Politically, the law was designed to favor Republicans who traditionally have difficulty winning the vote of union members.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of dues-paying union members totaled 266,000 in 2017. That figure is down 12.5% from the previous year when there were 304,000 union jobs. Not only did union jobs decline in Indiana, the number of union jobs grew in Illinois, despite what Holcomb said in the commercial. There were 827,000 union jobs in Illinois in 2017, up from the 812,000 the previous year. The percentage of workers in unions fell to 9.7% in Indiana in 2017. That was down from 11.4% the previous year.
Nationally, there has been a steady decline in the number of workers represented by unions. In Northwest Indiana, the number of union members has markedly declined, largely because of a reduction in the number hired to work in the steel industry. The steel mills locally once employed about 75,000 men and women. That number has fallen to about 20,000 today.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years.