Although right-to-work is now the “law of the land” for Indiana, House
Assistant Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, still says there
is a battle going on to protect workers’ wages for the entire state.
Pelath, who now represents portions of Duneland, spoke with the
Chesterton Tribune after Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the embattled House
Bill 1001 into law at approximately 2:45 p.m. Indianapolis time on
Pelath fought to defeat the bill as it made its’ way quickly through the
General Assembly and said its passage into state law is “a disgrace for
“We are now an example to the rest of the country for how you can drive down
the wages of hardworking people,” he said.
The bill forbids employers to require workers to pay union dues. Daniels
said the law would attract more business who in years past have chosen not
to come to Indiana due to the absence of a right-to-work law. Despite
widespread claims from critics that the bill will ultimately reduce pay for
Hoosier workers in all sectors, Daniels, in a statement, insisted “no one’s
wages will go down; no one’s benefits will be reduced, and the right to
organize and bargain collectively is untouched and intact.”
In response, Pelath said the right-to-work policy will not only affect
unions but all persons who benefit from unions in some way. Union wages help
sustain wages for the entire labor market, he said.
“When labor flows to the highest wage jobs, that means that employers have
to compete more for the workers that are left. It is just one of the ways
that it keeps an upward pressure on wages,” said Pelath, who argues that
right-to-work states tend to be the lowest wage states.
Indiana is the 23rd state in the nation to enact a Right-to-Work law and the
first of the “rust belt” states.
Although it is not certain what actions opponents will now take, Pelath said
it should not be forgotten that Indiana became a right-to-work state
previously in 1957 and later the 1964 Assembly repealed it. However, Pelath
believes the task of repealing it this next time around will be more
Enacting right-to-work will be a factor in this year’s elections as terms
for all state representatives and state senators expire at the end of this
Pelath said “one silver lining” is that the protests have inspired a large
crop of motivated voters who are angry they were denied the opportunity for
a referendum and shut out of the process at the State House. They have
pledged to seek retaliation at the voting booths in November.
“It is now in the hands of the voters,” Pelath said.
One thing Pelath is proud of is the bipartisan opposition seen in Northwest
Indiana. All region lawmakers voted against the bill including Republican
lawmakers such as State Representatives Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, and Tom
Dermody, R-LaPorte, and State Senators Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, and Jim
Duneland lawmakers State Senator Karen Tallian, D-Portage, and State Rep.
Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, also cast dissenting votes.
“I think the bipartisan opposition speaks to the proud labor tradition we
have in our region,” said Pelath.
Turning attention toward the remaining legislation in the Assembly will not
be an enthusiastic task, as the right-to-work controversy has cast a “very
ominous shadow” over every bill being worked on, Pelath said, and Democratic
representatives like him pushing for workers’ benefits have seen their bills
killed by the Republican majority.
Pelath said his party will now promote bills making life better for Hoosiers
that could gain bipartisan agreements.
The biggest push will be to restore funding to programs that have suffered
budgetary setbacks in recent years such as public education. Democratic
lawmakers are looking to propose ways the state could use the $320 million
in unused corporate income tax dollars which was found by chance discovery
weeks before the Assembly began its 2012 sessions.
“I think the most important thing is to make prudent use of our resources.
We may need to look and replace some of the deep cuts made over the last
couple years like education and that’s my primary concern for the remainder
of the session,” said Pelath.
The Assembly is in recess until Tuesday to make way for Super Bowl traffic
in Indianapolis. Right-to-work protesters see the Super Bowl as an
opportunity to educate the rest of the nation on the issue and will flood
the downtown streets this weekend.
“The town is pretty much at a standstill. When you inject thousands of
protesters, it makes for a pretty interesting scene,” Pelath told the
Avoiding the crowds, Pelath will be at home in Michigan City this weekend to
attend the legislative breakfast hosted by Dunes Shore District Council of
the Indiana State Teachers Association at Michigan City High School on