The House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee approved a controversial "Right-to-Work" bill today, despite a crowd of hundreds that packed the Indiana Statehouse to voice its opposition.[For Mark Lee's photo slideshow from the rally, click here.]
The so-called "Right-to-Work" (RTW) bill, House Bill 1468, would eviscerate unions' collective bargaining power statewide by guaranteeing an employee's right not to join a union, and would render illegal any contracts or agreements between unions and employers requiring employees to join a union as a condition of employment.
Panel members voted 8-5 along party lines, with Republicans unanimously favoring the bill. Following today's vote, the bill will proceed to the House for full approval. House Republicans have until Feb. 28 to get House approval, and get it into the hands of Senate lawmakers.
Committee members met in a tiny, cramped room in the Statehouse basement to debate the bill and hear testimony on both sides of the issue. Opponents of the bill representing unions, the clergy, academia and other groups criticized the bill for what they said was its potential to break unions and lower wages and benefits for workers.
Supporters of the bill characterized it as a push to increase worker freedom. Ed Roberts, a lobbyist for the Indiana Manufacturers Association, said the issue was both "moral and economic." He cited an example of three Hyatt Hotel workers, who testified that they had suffered abuse for not wanting to join a union organizing for worker rights there.
"People should not have to be forced into agreement with those with whom they disagree," he said. "All it does is give people more freedom."
Shouts of "wrong," and "baloney" cascaded from the protesters who packed the committee rooms and the rooms and hallways adjacent, waving placards, donning union t-shirts, worker clothes and hard hats.
Rep. Chuck Moseley (D-Portage) said that while he respected the complaints of the three hotel workers who testified, he encouraged lawmakers not to use that as an example of organized labor relations as a whole.
"We have hundreds of people... here today saying that this is going to hurt their way of life," he noted. "Why are there only three people who have spoken in favor" of the bill?