Right-to-work bill passes
Published: Sunday, January 29, 2012
Updated: Sunday, January 29, 2012 22:01
A local state legislator said he believed Indiana's contentious "Right to Work" legislation would not pass before the Super Bowl and accused House Republicans of trying to rush the bill to the governor's desk.
State Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute, who opposes the legislation, was one of 35 Democrats in the Indiana House of Representatives who repeatedly left the House chamber for closed-door meetings as legislators tried to debate the bill. It would prohibit labor unions from requiring workers to pay union membership dues as a condition for employment.
Democrats claim the bill, if passed, would effectively kill the state's labor unions. Republicans—including Gov. Mitch Daniels—counter that workers should be able to choose whether to pay union dues, and that Indiana would attract more business and industry as a "Right to Work" state.
The House voted 54-44 Wednesday to pass the legislation, days after Indiana's Senate approved an identical bill. The legislation now returns to the Senate, which is expected to pass it once more, and Daniels has promised to sign the bill into law.
For weeks, House Democrats had disrupted deliberations on the bill by walking out of the chamber for private caucuses. That prevented the chamber from reaching a full "quorum," or number of members required to hold a vote. Kersey said his party did not want to let Republicans, who planned to pass "Right to Work" within the first week of the session and wanted to avoid national media scrutiny, debate the bill without public or opposition input.
"This is all part of the democratic process that we're going through here," Kersey said.
As both the House and Senate deliberated the bill, members of labor unions staged daily protests at the Statehouse. Their chants could be heard as Daniels delivered his State of the State address earlier this month.
Charles P. "Chuck" Toth, president of the Terre Haute chapter of Labors International Union Chapter of North America, who also opposes the legislation, said "Right to Work" would disadvantage the state and nation's working class.
"It saddens me that there would be so many legislators… that would follow the governor's orders so blindly lockstep," Toth said.
Toth said current law allows workers, as "Beck objectors," to refuse to pay union dues, but labor organizations are still required to provide them representation.
Daniels filmed television and radio commercials in support of the legislation.
In a press release, Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said "Right to Work" was best for Indiana.
"This has always been about freedom and economic opportunity for all Hoosiers," Bosma said. "I announced that our number one priority this session is to bring jobs to Indiana and a victory for Hoosiers has been made with the passage of this bill."
Indiana has been a "Right to Work" state once before, from 1957 to 1965. Currently 22 states have "Right to Work" laws on the books.
"It's not a new issue," Kersey said. "It's been around a long time."
Toth is a Democratic candidate for Indiana's District 46 House seat, currently held by Republican former ISU employee Bob Heaton—who supports the legislation. Toth said "Right to Work" would be the centerpiece of his campaign.
"When people see the last name of Toth, I want them to think jobs," he said.
Labor unions and jobs aren't the only focus of this legislative session, which is set to wrap up in April.
Also last week, the House approved and sent to Daniels legislation that would ratchet up penalties for sex trafficking ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl. The House also passed an amendment to statewide smoking ban legislation that gives an 18-month exemption to bars that allow customers to smoke. The House is expected to decide next week whether to advance the bill to the Senate.
A statewide smoking ban would not affect Terre Haute, because both the city and Vigo County have public no-smoking ordinances on the books.