A dispatch from Indianapolis
INDIANAPOLIS — In the ongoing battle over right-to-work legislation in Indiana, the state House is still out, although not as far as Illinois this year.
An anticipated joint committee hearing of the House and the Senate is scheduled to occur Friday morning over a proposed right-to-work bill, but for the second consecutive day the Indiana House Democrats have refused to form a quorum — obstructing the legislation from receiving due debate and formal process. House Democrats fled to Illinois last February to protest similar legislation that would have provided right-to-work protections to public-sector employees.
Senate Bill 269 would make it a Class A misdemeanor to require an individual to join or remain in a union or to pay any dues, fees or other charges to that same labor organization. This is commonly referred to as "right-to-work" legislation. In non-right-to-work states, including Michigan, collective bargaining agreements typically require workers to pay a fee in lieu of regular dues if they do not wish to formally join the union.
Republicans hold a 60-40 majority in the 100-member Indiana House, but a two-thirds majority is required on the floor for session to occur. The Democrats' absence can force business to shut down, such as the five-week shutdown of the Indiana House in 2011 over a similar right-to-work bill.
Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, is the fourth name on the proposed bill and one of its sponsors. A member of the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee, he says “It’s an individual liberty issue, not just for an employee but for an employer as well.” As to the House Democrats, he says they are stalling the entire process.
Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he supports the bill, which would make Indiana the 23rd state to adopt right-to-work legislation. Other states that have adopted it include mostly western and southern states like Virginia and Oklahoma; Indiana would be the first in the so-called “Manufacturing Belt.”
Gov. Daniels said in a formal statement, “Seven years of experience at our Indiana Economic Development Corporation have confirmed what every economic development expert tells us: despite our top-ranked business climate, Indiana gets dealt out of hundreds of new job opportunities because we have no right-to-work law.”
Sen. Jim Banks, R-Fort Wayne, supports the bill, but questions the focus solely on the studied economic boosters in right-to-work states, such as increased employment, faster income growth and higher “real pay” after factoring the cost-of-living. Sen. Banks believes it is an issue of morality: “We get in the mud when we talk about those issues. Who owns my labor? I own my labor.”
Hundreds of union supporters, bearing signs that read “Hoosiers Want Union Life Lines Not State Bread Lines” and “This Law of Suppression Invites A Depression,” showed up to protest the bill. There have been numerous reports of out-of-state union busing from states such as Illinois and Missouri to increase protestor numbers.
Harvey Jackson, recording secretary of Local 142 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in Gary, Ind., arrived with fellow opponents of the legislation via bus. Defending the agency fees that are charged to workers that opt-out of the union, he says “If there are two lines where one has to pay for benefits and one doesn’t, guess which line’s going to be longer?”
House Democrats could presumably stall the bill indefinitely, but they may pay a political price back home with their constituents.
“The 5-week walkout was embarrassing for all the legislators,” says Sen. Banks. “There are Democrats that refuse to walk out this year.”
Gov. Daniels said of the House Democrats’ walkout, “I trust that people’s consciences will bring them back to work.”
Paul Kersey, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy says, “We need to have an honest debate about this. We debate, we vote, we pass legislation; that is how a democratic Republic works.”