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Fight Over Union Law Has Indiana’s Legislature Mired in Quorumless Limbo

A clash over labor rights in Indiana (STOIN1) is taking shape in the state Capitol as House Democrats try to stop a measure that would prohibit union contracts from requiring that workers pay dues, a top priority for Governor Mitch Daniels and fellow Republicans.

When the legislative session opened yesterday in Indianapolis, Democrats remained in caucus, preventing the House from conducting business. The opening-day maneuver recalled last year’s session, when the Republican-dominated House shut down for five weeks after Democrats fled the state in opposition to bills restricting union rights. It extends battles over unionism throughout the Midwest to a new arena: private businesses.

While the House is scheduled to convene today, Democratic leader Patrick Bauer said yesterday his members would return if public hearings on the bill are held throughout the state, not just in the Capitol in Indianapolis.

“We refuse to let the most controversial public policy bill of the decade be railroaded through and the public denied fair and adequate input,” Bauer said in a statement.

“There is no urgency to schedule this bill for passage so quickly,” he said.

The measure, which prohibits contracts at private work sites from requiring workers to contribute to a union, is scheduled for a committee hearing tomorrow.

Midwestern Rage

Some Republican governors and legislatures targeted government-worker unions last year. Wisconsin (STOWI1) Governor Scott Walker provoked weeks of demonstrations in Madison when he pushed curbs on collective-bargaining rights. That sparked recalls of Republican legislators and a continuing effort to oust Walker.

Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, pushed through Wisconsin-like restrictions on public-employee unions and had his effort overturned by voters in a November ballot proposal.

The Indiana bill, which targets unions that have contracts with private businesses, is being advanced in the name of job creation.

“We’re missing between a quarter and a third of the opportunities because the business has this as a prerequisite,” Daniels said in an interview last month. “That’s a big matter to us, a big deal. In this economy, a state like ours needs every edge it can get.”

Union Resistance

Although 22 states have enacted the ban, none have in the industrial Midwest, according to the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation Inc. Oklahoma (STOOK1) was the last state to enact a right-to-work law, in 2001. Democrats say the laws lower paychecks for working families.

The average worker in a right-to-work state is paid $30,167 a year, or about $5,333 less than workers in states that don’t have the rule, according to U.S. Labor Department data.

The Indiana State AFL-CIO, a union coalition, is running television and radio ads attacking the bill. Nancy Guyott, president of the state chapter, the bill would have an “overwhelmingly negative impact on workers’ wages.”

The future of the bill rests on the actions of the Democrats. Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma told the Indianapolis Star that he hopes “common sense will prevail and they’ll come back here.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Timothy Jones in Chicago at tjones58@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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