Lawmakers returning to the Statehouse
tomorrow to prep for their 2012 legislative session will likely face hallways
filled with union workers worried about legislation they say could dilute their
power and hurt the state's economy.
House and Senate leaders are not expected to take up the
bills when the GOP-controlled General Assembly gathers for its annual
Organization Day on Tuesday. But they are expected to push the legislation —
which would free workers from paying fees to unions they don't join —
when the session begins in earnest in January.
So the Indiana AFL-CIO
AFL-CIOis asking its members and other supporters to show up at the
Statehouse to talk to their representatives and senators about why they believe
right-to-work is a bad idea.
"We're calling it an 'all workers lobby day,'"
said Jeff Harris
Harris, a spokesman for the union. "There are no big rallies or
anything like that planned. We just want people to come to the Statehouse and
The legislature's Organization Day is typically a low-key
affair made up of ceremonial speeches, rules votes and other procedural
activities. Occasionally, though, lawmakers have used the day to take votes or
introduce legislation deemed particularly important.
The latter won't be the case this year, said Senate President Pro Tem David Long
President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.
"We're not going to do anything as far as a major
introduction of bills, but we are going to be discussing a little bit of the
agenda from the mic," Long said.
Right-to-work "might be discussed but there won't be
legislation introduced that day" in the Senate, Long said.
House Speaker Brian Bosma
Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, declined through a spokeswoman to be
But House Minority Leader Pat Bauer
Bauer, D-South Bend, said he received a letter from Bosma indicating no
substantial action will be taken Tuesday. Bauer said that means his caucus has
nothing specific planned either.
"We'll adjust if there are incoming bombs," Bauer
Right-to-work is expected to be one of the most dominant
issues of the 2012 legislative session. The proposals are meant to keep workers
from paying fees to unions they don't join – even if those unions
represent them in salary and benefits negotiations and other areas.
Proponents — mostly business groups and Republicans —
say the legislation would make Indiana more economically competitive and lead
to job growth. Opponents — mostly Democrats and union leaders — say
the legislation would lead to lower wages and fewer benefits for all Hoosiers.
During the 2011 session earlier this year, majority House
Republicans moved a right-to-work bill out of committee. But Democrats
boycotted the session — even fleeing to Illinois — for more than
one month in an attempt to block its passage.
Eventually, the GOP gave up on the bill and sent the topic
to a study committee for action. That group has recommended the General
Assembly take up the issue in January.
Bauer has promised to "respond appropriately" if
Republicans do so. But this week, he wouldn't say just what that action might
"I certainly do think the minority has the right to
defend the people and the process from a majority that becomes
tyrannical," Bauer said. "We have to choose those means that will be
most effective. But right now, I couldn't say what that is without talking to
people and discussing it further."
Bauer suggested that an Occupy Wall Street-type protest
Wall Street-type protest— which has led thousands of people to camp
out in parks and other public locations across the nation, though few in
Indianapolis — might be one option. So would forums and rallies across
the state. Regardless, Bauer said, the public needs to be involved in some more
expansive way if Democrats are to be successful stopping the legislation.
Republicans have a 60-40 majority in the Indiana House and a
37-13 majority in the Senate. The Senate margin is so wide that Republicans can
produce a quorum for business even if Democrats don't show up at all.
And even if Democrats in the House wanted to boycott
business again, they face substantial obstacles. Most notably, the GOP earlier
this year pushed through a new law that could lead to $1,000-per-day fines for
lawmakers that try to deny the quorum necessary to conduct business.
Meanwhile, union leaders are "preparing for any and all
eventualities," Harris said. "We don't know how things will play out
but we are going to do what we did last year: Encourage our members to come to
the Statehouse and talk to their legislators one on one. That seems to be the
most effective strategy."
Weidenbener is editor at the Franklin College Statehouse News Bureau