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.
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
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.
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
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."
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.
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."
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