Dems decry GOP right-to-work plans

David Johnson of Evansville, an organizer for the Sheet Metal Worker's International Association, displayed an anti-right-to-work sign during a legislative committee hearing Wednesday at the Indiana Statehouse.

By Leslie Weidenbener

INDIANAPOLIS – The Democrat leader in the

Indiana House said Wednesday that his members "will reserve the right to

respond appropriately" if Republicans move forward with plans to push

right-to-work legislation in the General Assembly's 2012 session.

Rep. Pat Bauer of South Bend – who led Democrats

on a five-week boycott of legislative action over the issue earlier this year

– said it appears majority House and Senate Republicans are "hell-bent on

bringing this ruinous policy to Indiana."

But it's not clear Democrats have much leverage to

stop the proposal, which would let Hoosier workers opt out of paying fees to

unions they choose not to join, even if those groups represent them.

On Wednesday, Democrats tried repeatedly to amend a

recommendation by the Interim Commission on Employment Issues that the General

Assembly adopt a right-to-work law next year. They called the idea "radical"

and said Republicans were simply aiming to destroy unions in Indiana.

"Marginalizing the opposition is not the way we

operate in a democracy," said Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage. "I can't

vote for anything whose real purpose is to silence dissent."

But Republicans, who have a 5-4 majority on the

committee, beat back Democratic attempts to gut the recommendation and passed

it on a party-line vote. They said the legislation will make Indiana more

economically competitive and lower costs for Hoosier businesses.

Twenty-two states have right-to-work legislation.

"If you're not competitive, you're going to

die," said the committee's chairman, Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville.

"We have to stay competitive."

The committee's recommendation now moves on to the

full General Assembly, which will begin meeting for its 2012 session in

January. That's when Bauer's comments could lead to Democratic action –

but what type is unclear.

Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes, said Wednesday that

"it's way too premature" to know what steps Democrats might take.

"At best we have a recommendation here. We don't have

a bill. We still have to see the language," Battles said. "Clearly it goes

against what I personally believe and what our caucus believes in but to make threats

at this point is too premature. We'll wait and see what happens."

Republicans have a 60-40 majority in the Indiana House

and a 37-13 majority in the Senate. The latter is a large enough margin to

produce a quorum for business even if Democrats don't show up.

And last session, after House Democrats fled to


to stop House action on right-to-work, the GOP 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.

Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, said Wednesday that

Democrats learned their boycott "was not a good political or financial move for


Still, the move did work. Republicans agreed to take

right-to-work off the agenda for the 2011 session, in part because GOP Gov.

Mitch Daniels had an aggressive education agenda he did not want to see

derailed. That's not the case this year, Torr said.

"I don't know that we have anything more important

than this to do in the coming session," he said. "So it's a completely different


Union leaders said Wednesday they have no plans to

back off their opposition.

David Johnson, a union organizer for the Sheet Metal

Worker's International Association, drove to the Statehouse from Evansville to

protest at Wednesday's meeting. Johnson said he's confident union members and

other Hoosiers will "wake up and see what they're trying to do here."

"Right to work will not benefit the state of Indiana,"

Johnson said. "It is a union busting measure."

In a statement, Indiana AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott

called the proposal anti-worker legislation that "will force Indiana into a

race to the bottom."

"We strongly oppose it," she said, "and will continue

to do everything we can to educate and mobilize Hoosiers to defeat it."

Leslie Weidenbener is editor of Franklin College' Pulliam School of Journalism Indiana Statehouse Bureau.


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