INDIANAPOLIS – Hundreds of union workers crowded the Statehouse hallways
Tuesday waving signs and chanting “shame on you” outside the Indiana House
and Senate chambers as lawmakers organized for their 2012 session.
The demonstration – which included shouts of obscenities and drowned out a
moment of silence for the late race car driver Dan Weldon – came just 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
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said companies are currently
passing Indiana by for states that free workers from paying fees to unions
they don’t join, but represent them in contract negotiations.
But union workers on Tuesday argued otherwise. Michelle Kyle, a UAW union
member from South Bend, said she came to the Statehouse to tell lawmakers
why right-to-work would hurt the state and how it would impact benefits and
safety issues in companies.
“We would have no voice with right-to-work,” Kyle said. “I really think our
voices as employees and workers of the United States should be heard.”
Janice Drake, employee of Schneider Electric in Peru, said right-to-work
would be a mistake.
“Right-to-work states are actually paid less on average, and there’s a
higher work accident rate and death rate in right-to-work states,” Drake
said. “All of the committees that have been done in Indiana had members who
were from out of state. The small businesses here talk against it. I think
it’s wrong to not listen to the people of this state.”
Both sides of the contentious debate have produced studies supporting their
views. But Republicans have the upper hand at the General Assembly, where
they hold significant majorities in the House and Senate.
As he gaveled the House into session, Bosma urged lawmakers to have the
courage to move forward with a controversial idea.
“Do you want to be brave or safe?” Bosma said. “It would be very easy for us
to have a very safe session. But for me, I think it has to be brave.”
It might take some bravery. Outside the chamber doors, lawmakers and staff
had to squeeze past hundreds of workers who were crowded up against barriers
set by the Indiana State Police to control the crowd.
Earlier in the day, union members waited in lines in the cold rain to go
through security to get into the Statehouse. They carried signs that read
“right-to-work is a lie” and “this law of suppression invites a depression.”
The protests were a continuation of weeks of demonstrations at the
Statehouse during the 2011 session earlier this year. That’s when 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. Then on Monday, Bosma and Long said it would be a
top priority for the session. GOP leaders insist the right-to-work proposal
is not meant to destroy unions.
But the AFL-CIO – who early this year led weeks of rallies and protests
against the legislation – called the Republicans’ position “laughable.” The
AFL-CIO organized the demonstrations Tuesday at the Statehouse, and workers
are expected to continue with similar gatherings and rallies as the session
begins in earnest in January.
“It’s about money and power,” said Nancy Guyott, the AFL-CIO’s Indiana
“Big 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
House 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
or if it could include another boycott.
Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson, D-Bloomington, said the Senate Democrats
are also prepared to represent their constituents in this upcoming session.
“Citizens of Indiana want us to go to work, do our job and speak about the
issues that are important to them, including job creation, economic
development, education, and some of the other issues that are important to
them, including levels of their income,” Simpson said. “We are here to do
our work… We’ll be working as partners in this process and look forward to a
vigorous, but respectful debate.”
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
“I’ll 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.”
Writer Lesley Weidenbener contributed to this story.