Chesterton Tribune

Unions pack Statehouse to protest right to work

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By Ellie Price

Franklin College

Statehouse Bureau

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 creation efforts.

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 president.

“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 process.”

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 right-to-work.

“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.



Posted 11/23/2011