Sunday, February 20, 2011

Union Members Hope to Make Voices Heard

By John Tuohy and Dana Hunsinger

Indiana union members plan to swarm the Statehouse this week to protest a slew of Republican-sponsored bills they say would weaken their membership.

"We are calling on teachers, carpenters, electrical workers from all corners of the state to come here, stand up for workers, make their voices heard and defeat these bills," said Rick Muir, president of the Indiana Federation of Teachers.

At issue are the so-called "right to work" bill, another that curtails collective bargaining in teacher contracts and a bill that prohibits automatic payroll deductions for union dues. The protests would rekindle a debate that touched off a partisan spat on the first day of the current General Assembly and focus attention on issues that Gov. Mitch Daniels views as unnecessary this year.

Union leaders said the bills will depress union wages, which, in turn, will lower the pay of all workers.

The bills' backers say they will allow Indiana to keep jobs here instead of watching them go to 22 other states that have right-to-work laws.

"A right-to-work law to many employers is apparently a litmus test in whether or not you are a state they want to do business in," said Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel. "At least a third of businesses looking to move or expand only look at right-to-work states."

A hearing on the bill is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday.

The president of Indiana's AFL-CIO said Friday she was preparing testimony to refute Torr's argument.

"My main concern with right to work is that it would destroy the middle class in Indiana," Nancy Guyott said. "It would make us a much poorer and much more desperate state."

House Bill 1028 would guarantee an employee's right not to join a union at a unionized company and would make it illegal to enter agreements preventing employers from hiring nonunion workers. Senate Bill 575 prohibits bargaining on issues such as teacher evaluations, dismissal procedures and working conditions and would limit contracts for teachers to two years. House Bill 1585 would stop payroll deductions for dues.

Muir said Friday night that e-mails were sent out to thousands of union members, including 6,600 members of the IFT.

He said he is encouraging them to protest each day of the week, much the way state workers in Madison, Wis., did last week. Protests at the Wisconsin state Capitol grew to an estimated 70,000 people.

"We would love to have something as big as Wisconsin," he said. "It is time for working people to stand up for themselves and protest the loss of the middle class."

Republicans said they expected huge numbers of union members and were trying to portray protesters as usurpers of the legislative process.

"On Monday, with the help of President Obama and the DNC, we are expecting union members from around the state to descend on the State House in their continued effort to intimidate legislators to preserve the status quo that is allowing 25,000 students to drop out of high school every year," said an e-mail sent out Friday night by the Indiana Republican Party.

Democrats already have signaled their intention to fight right-to-work legislation. On Jan. 5, Democrats tied up the opening session of the Indiana House with a series of procedural votes aimed at killing the measure.

Though Daniels favors the legislation, he has said now was not the time to introduce it because there is so much other work to do by April 29, including crafting a new two-year state budget.

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