INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana House Democrats returned to
work Monday after their third boycott this year over right-to-work
legislation, but swiftly moved to strike down the measure and put an end
to what one lawmaker called "collateral damage."
The Democrats' return gave Republicans the number of
lawmakers needed to take another vote on the proposal to ban unions from
collecting mandatory representation fees from workers. But Democratic Rep.
Scott Pelath of Michigan City opened what was expected to be lengthy
debate with a procedural motion to kill the bill.
Democrats supporting the motion said the legislation is the
most divisive bill the Legislature has ever seen.
"This institution is best served if we just end this right
here and right now," said Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Indianapolis. "If you look
at the collateral damage that this institution has suffered ... you have
to ask yourself, at what cost?"
Republican Rep. Jerry Torr of Carmel said the proposal was
premature. The GOP-led House rejected the motion, 59-39, as union
protesters chanted outside the House chamber.
Republicans are pushing for Indiana to become the first
state in more than a decade to approve right-to-work legislation.
Supporters say the measure would bring more jobs to Indiana, where
unemployment has crept up to around 9 percent. Opponents say it is aimed
at breaking unions and claim it would depress wages for all workers.
"We seem to be doing all right under our current
circumstances," said Rep. Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis.
National advocates have tried without success to push the
measure in New Hampshire and other states following a wave of Statehouse
victories by Republicans in 2010.
Indiana Democrats, who blocked similar legislation with a
five-week walkout last year, are seeking a statewide voter referendum in
November that would decide the fate of the right-to-work bill. Democratic
House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer introduced a version of the referendum
on Friday that he said was designed to pass constitutional muster.
Republican leaders maintain that such a referendum isn't
allowed under the state constitution and that the Legislature must decide
what becomes state law. The Republican-led Senate rejected such a
referendum last week and planned to take a final vote on the right-to-work
The right-to-work battle has disrupted the legislative
session that began Jan. 4 and has brought large crowds of union protesters
to the Statehouse. Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma last week imposed
$1,000-a-day fines against absent Democrats, but a Marion County judge
issued an order Thursday blocking those fines from being deducted from the
state paychecks of boycotters who have sued.
If the legislation passes, Indiana would become the 23rd
state to approve a right-to-work law. A victory would hand national
conservatives and business groups a major win on an issue that has
recently eluded them elsewhere. It also would deal another blow to
organized labor, which has seen mixed results in its fight against
initiatives to curb union rights nationwide that followed the Republican
victories in 2010.
The last state to enact a right-to-work law was Oklahoma in