Chesterton Tribune

Rep Pelath: Contentious days ahead in wake of right-to-work passage

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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 Wednesday.

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 Indiana.”

“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it should not be forgotten that Indiana became a right-to-work state previously in 1957 and later the 1964 Assembly repealed it.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 difficult.

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 year.

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 Arnold, R-LaPorte.

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 Tribune.

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 Saturday morning.




Posted 2/2/2012