Union-Law Fight Has Indiana’s Legislature Mired in Limbo

A labor-rights clash is taking shape in Indiana’s 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 unions. It extends labor battles throughout the Midwest to a new arena: private businesses.

Most House Democrats were absent again today when Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma opened the session. Another is scheduled for 2 p.m. tomorrow.

“We’ll give the Democrats an opportunity to organize and let us know where they are,” Bosma said from the House floor.

Democratic leader Patrick Bauer said yesterday his members would return if public hearings on the bill are held throughout the state, not just in Indianapolis.

Pushing It Through

“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.”

Republican governors and legislatures targeted government-worker unions last year. Wisconsin 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 pushed through Wisconsin-like restrictions on public-employee unions and had his effort overturned by voters in November.

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 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.

“We will keep calm and carry on and trust that eventually they will return and fulfill their constitutional responsibilities,” Bosma said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE