Indiana Workers Protest Labor Bill

By Thomas Burton, Kris Maher And Douglas Belkin

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—The fight over limiting organizing and bargaining of public-sector workers spread from Wisconsin, where a weeklong battle remains unresolved, to Indianapolis Monday where thousands of steelworkers, auto workers and others surrounded the state capital to protest a right-to-work labor bill that passed a committee of the Republican-controlled House, prompting discussion of a walkout by Democrats.

The Indiana bill, which would change state law so that private-sector workers no longer are required to pay dues or belong to a union that bargains on their behalf, now goes to the full House, which would need two-thirds or 67 of the 100 House members present to vote.

Republicans hold a 60-40 lead in the Indiana House and need a two-thirds quorum to vote on legislation.

Democratic Rep. David L. Niezgodski said that leaving to stymie a quorum “is absolutely an option we have.”

About 22 states, mostly across the South, have such laws. In Indiana currently, if a union bargains for a group of workers at an employer, all workers covered by the contract must belong to the union. Proponents of the bill say it would create jobs while opponents say it would drive down wages. The bill would exempt members of the construction industries, whose unions and management argued that the unions play a critical role in training and apprenticeships.

Meanwhile, in Madison, progress on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s bill remained frozen Monday as Democratic senators needed to vote on the budget-repair bill remained out of state. Andrew Welhouse, a spokesman for Republican Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald, said GOP senators would return Tuesday morning and could vote to pass several non-fiscal bills that didn’t require a 20th vote and the presence of any Democrats. “The Senate Republicans stand ready to get back to work as soon as the Senate Democrats come back from Illinois and give up their self-imposed exile,” he said.

Senate Democrats said they have no intention of returning from northern Illinois until the governor agrees to negotiate on his proposal to eliminate most collective-bargaining rights for the state’s 170,000 public employees.

Wisconsin union members have acquiesced to Mr. Walker’s demand that they pay an additional $300 million for their benefits and pensions over the next two years, but they have balked at accepting the elimination of collective bargaining, saying it is central to their ability to negotiate a decent workplace.

In an interview in his office last week, Mr. Walker said collective bargaining was no longer needed to guarantee workers rights because Wisconsin has some of the strongest civil service protections in the world. He said the ability of unions to reject almost any concessions had made it impossible for government executives to manage budgets, leaving layoffs as the only option. “For decades, local government officials have been asking for the tools to be able to balance these budgets. Now is the time to do it,” said Mr. Walker, a former chief executive of Milwaukee County.

In Indianapolis, State Rep. Jerry Torr, the Republican sponsor of the legislation pending there, said becoming a right-to-work state would attract jobs. “If I thought this was class warfare, I would not be pushing this bill,” Mr. Torr said, adding that passage of such a law would give Indiana an advantage over neighboring states,” such as Ohio, which aren’t right-to-work states, and would be good for union members.

John Bartlett, a legislator and United Auto Workers member, said “when you said this is a good bill for unions, obviously you have never been a union employee.”

Nancy Guyott, president of the state AFL-CIO, said her organization represents a broad spectrum of employees such as teachers, janitors, health-care workers, builders, breadmakers and lawyers. “We are Indiana and we’re in opposition to this bill,” she said.

Kevin Brinegar, president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said right-to-work states “have higher economic growth rates” and that a poll of Indiana residents concluded that “70% or more Hoosiers support such legislation.”



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