Julia Tavlas

Last Friday, the unemployment rate crept up to 7.9 percent.

Ironically, this news came a day after members of the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness received their pink slips. On Thursday, the council’s charter expired and the committee was disbanded. In January 2011, when unemployment had surpassed 9 percent, President Obama appointed business leaders to the council, which was founded to help create jobs. According to the Council’s website, its mission was to:

Develop realistic, achievable ideas that business and government can put into practice starting now. The best ideas for investing in America, getting our economy back on track and creating jobs.

When Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, was appointed to chair the Council, he acknowledged job creation and economic growth would be a slow and arduous process. He stated,

There’s no easy button to push to make the economy better, but every day we see more signs of life.

Signs of life? Break out the toe tags; the economy is as dead as the council. In its two year existence, the council had met only four times, and its last meeting was more than a year ago. Meanwhile, tens of millions of Americans remain under- or unemployed.

As if the unemployment numbers weren’t bad enough, during the same week the council was taken off life support, the administration announced the U.S. economy had shrunk at an annual rate of 0.1 percent during the October-December quarte — the first contraction in three years. According to a  statement from the Bureau of Economic Analysis:

Real gross domestic product — the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States — decreased at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 (that is, from the third quarter to the fourth quarter).

The bright side is the council will not be missed. After all, it never did much anyway.

Controversial anti-union laws continue to thrust the typically camera-shy Midwest into the national spotlight.

On January 17, a federal judge shot down a union-driven lawsuit aimed at overturning Indiana’s “right-to-work” law, passed last February. Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers spokesperson Ed Maher attacked the constitutionality of the law by arguing that free riders benefit from unions that “are legally obligated to provide services including contract negotiation, grievance representation, and legal assistance.” Unions claim that this is forced labor without compensation.

Judge Philip Simon of the U.S. District Court, however, didn’t buy it, explaining in his ruling:

None of the legal challenges launched by the union here to attack Indiana’s new Right to Work law can succeed. The electorate can ultimately decide whether [lawmakers'] judgments are sound, wise, and constitute good governance and can express their opinions at the polls and by other means. But those are questions beyond the reach of the federal court.

Many lawmakers in Indiana, historically a union-friendly state, are ecstatic that the right-to-work law has been upheld. Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) exclaimed, “It’s good for Hoosier workers, it’s good for those who are seeking to be workers and it is good for the state’s economy.” 

(In a case of judicial serendipity, the same week that Indiana’s right-to-work law emerged unscathed from its legal battle, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 2011 Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, which had curbed collective bargaining for many Badger State public employees.)

So for the time being, Indiana will avoid becoming California. Unfortunately, California is still California.