By Lesley


Hundreds of

union workers crowded the Statehouse hallways Tuesday waving signs and chanting

as members of the Indiana House and Senate organized for their 2012 session.


demonstration came one day after Republican leaders announced that passing a

right-to-work law will be their top priority, one they said is necessary to

boost Indiana's job-creation efforts. House Speaker Brian Bosma,

R-Indianapolis, said companies are currently bypassing Indiana for states that

free workers from paying fees to unions they don't join.

But workers

said otherwise. Mitch Anton, a steel worker from northwest Indiana, said he

came to the Statehouse to tell lawmakers why right-to-work will

hurt the state.


will weaken unions," Anton said Tuesday. "And that will mean fewer

protections for workers, lower wages for workers and less safety. It's not good

for Indiana."

Both sides

of the contentious debate have produced studies supporting their views. But

Republicans have the upper hand in the General Assembly, where they hold

significant majorities in the House and Senate.


have a 60-40 majority in the 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.


Democrats in the House want to boycott business, as they did during the 2011

session, 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 who try to deny the quorum necessary to conduct business.

As he

gaveled the House into session, Bosma urged lawmakers to have the courage to

move forward with a controversial idea.


you want to be brave or safe?" Bosma asked. "It would be very easy

for us to have a very safe session. But for me, I think it has to be


During the

2011 session, 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.


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. Then on Monday, Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem

David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said it would be a top priority for the session.

Long said Monday that the goal of the right-to-work legislation is not

to eliminate unions.


do everything we can to have a fair, open and honest discussion about

that," Long said. "In the end, a right-to-work law in Indiana makes

sense. I think it will create a lot of jobs — good-paying jobs —

for this state and that's why we're doing it."

But the

AFL-CIO — which early this year organized weeks of rallies and protests

against the legislation — called the Republicans' position



organized Tuesday's demonstrations at the Statehouse and workers are expected

to continue with similar gatherings and rallies as the session begins in

earnest in January.


about money and power," said Nancy Guyott, the AFL-CIO's Indiana



corporations and their elected friends want to bust up unions, eliminating the

last group of people standing in the way of unfettered corporate control,"

Guyott said. "They want to drive down wages and increase profits. They

want to eliminate the voice of working people in the political process."


Minority leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, has promised to "respond

appropriately" if Republicans continue to push the right-to-work

legislation. But this week, he wouldn't say just what that action might be.


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



suggested that an Occupy Wall Street-type protest — which has led

thousands of people across the nation to camp out in parks and other public

locations, 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.

Rep. Kreg

Battles, D-Vincennes, served on the summer study committee and said he's still

hopeful that the Republicans will change their minds about right-to-work.


always remain optimistic," Battles said. "I hope we go with facts and

if we go with good facts and not store-bought reports, we'll find it really

doesn't create jobs and the jobs it creates will be low-wage jobs. I hope at

the end of the day this is about policy and not politics."

The union

lobby is gearing up for politics.


members are "preparing for any and all eventualities," union

spokesman Jeff Harris said last week as he prepared for the Organization Day action.

"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



Stedman Weidenbener is editor at the Franklin College Statehouse News Bureau


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