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 Illinois
Illinoisto 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.