Chesterton Tribune

Indiana unions say they have little left to lose

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s public labor unions say they have little left to lose, even if the results of Wisconsin’s recall election inspire state lawmakers to push anti-union legislation further.

Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker won a recall victory Tuesday despite union opposition stemming from a law that ended collective bargaining for most public employees and teachers.

The dissipation of union power has been a reality in Indiana for some time, as Gov. Mitch Daniels, another Republican, stripped state employees of their collective bargaining rights on his first day in office in 2005. And this year, he signed a bill restricting teachers’ contracts to salaries and wages. Unions in Indiana were also stung this year by a new right-to-work law.

Indiana State Teachers Association spokesman Mark Shoup said there’s not much left for the Republican-controlled Legislature to take away from the unions.

“There’s so little left,” he told The Indianapolis Star in a Wednesday report. “They just decimated collective bargaining for Indiana teachers. They had their way with unions. My God! Maybe they’ll do more, but they’ve done so much damage I can’t imagine that there’s anything else to do.”

Central Indiana Labor Council president Brett Voorhies said he’s afraid lawmakers may take bargaining rights away from other public employees, such as local police and firefighters.

“That’s one of our fears going into this next session,” he said. “The teachers, they are already starting on that. Next will come the firefighters. They’re just chopping it away.”

At the local level, state law doesn’t require binding arbitration; it only requires counties and cities to confer with unions representing police and firefighters.

Bill Owensby, president of the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 86, said police are concerned they could lose their rights and benefits.

“It’s a trend. It isn’t just a Wisconsin thing. It’s a national trend,” Owensby said.

A spokeswoman for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation didn’t return a phone call from the AP on Wednesday seeking comment on how the state’s labor legislation affects the business climate. But the IEDC website touts the fact that Indiana is now a right-to-work state, saying that makes the state more attractive to developers.

ISTA President Nate Schnellenberger said Wednesday that he doesn’t think Walker’s win was a sign that voters endorse his policies, and believes Walker will lose if he seeks re-election at the regular time.

Schnellenberger said he thinks people are just reluctant to remove someone from office at midterm.

“I think if he runs for re-election he’ll be voted out of office by a fairly wide margin,” he told The Associated Press. “I think it’s erroneous to think that the people have approved his policies.”

Owensby said legislators in Indiana may go after union pensions next. Owensby told the AP that a legislative study committee last year looked at changing the state’s Public Employee Retirement Fund from one based on defined benefits, where a new hire knows how much he’ll receive when he retires, to a defined contribution basis, where the benefits depend on the performance of the stock market.

Rep. Jerry Torr, a Carmel Republican who helped lead the effort to pass the right to work law, told the Star he doubted lawmakers would want to tamper with local control of collective bargaining.

Tom Hanify, president of the Indiana Firefighters Association, said he didn’t think lawmakers would touch the PERF, which he and Owensby both said is financially solid. And he said local labor fights are rare in Indiana.

“I don’t think (Wisconsin) will have much negative impact on us,” Hanify said. “That’s because we don’t have much, for one, and number two, cities, towns and my members, they really try. Hoosier common sense prevails.”


Posted 6/7/2012