Indiana union members mobilize to fight so-called right-to-work legislation

As a new session of the Indiana General Assembly convened on January 4, about 1,000 union members and supporters chanted “Kill the bill” and “Whose house? Our house” as they rallied in front of the Indiana statehouse in Indianapolis to protest proposed legislation that would make Indiana a right-to-work state.

At the end of the rally, they went inside, stopped legislators in the hallways, and urged them to vote against two right-to-work bills that have been filed so far, HB 1001 and SB 269.

In December, Republican lawmakers and Jonathan Williams, the tax policy director for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a national right-wing group that according to the Washington Post, “ghostwrites” bills that serve corporate interests for state legislators, told reporters that HB 1001 and SB 269 would Republicans’ top priority this session.

So-called right-to-work laws, which are in effect in 22 states, make it harder for workers to organize, join, and maintain unions. “Right-to-work laws are about bankrupting unions in Indiana and across the country,” said Richard Knipp Teamster Local 142 secretary-treasurer in Gary. “The argument that such legislation attracts more corporate business is a complete fabrication. Right-to-work-for-less is designed to diminish union treasuries, weaken our political power, and kick our members out of the middle class.”

A public policy commentary by the Higgins Labor Studies Program at Notre Dame University says that if Indiana passes right-to-work legislation, union power in the state will be weakened and wages and benefits for union and non-union workers will lag behind.

The Economic Policy Institute also reports that recent well-designed studies on right-to-work laws show that they reduce wages by $1,500 a year, lower the likelihood that workers will have health care and pension benefits through their employers, and have no impact on job creation.

The Indiana labor movement has made defeating the proposed legislation its top priority. The Indiana AFL-CIO has begun running a series of 30-second and 60-second radio and television commercials entitled the “The Wrong Priorities” in areas of the state where polls show that constituents oppose right-to-work-for-less laws.

“Hoosiers (Indiana residents) want the General Assembly to focus on fixing the economy and creating good paying jobs rather than these tired old partisan attacks on collective bargaining rights, and we hope these commercials serve as a reminder of that,” said Nancy Guyott, Indiana AFL-CIO president.

Guyott also said that unions will initiate a grassroots campaign to get members involved in the fight. In a message to all Indiana union members, the state AFL-CIO said, “We’re asking you to come to Indianapolis as often as you can to speak in person to your state representative and state senators about the right-to-work-for-less bill.”

Teamsters Local 142 will hold a public forum on the right-to-work-for-less bills on January 8 to explain to members and the public what is at stake in this fight.

On January 5, Teamster International General President James Hoffa will hold a televised town hall meeting on the proposed right-to-work-for less legislation.

“The Teamsters encourage all members to rally behind our brothers and sisters and oppose right-to-work-for-less,” said John Coli of Teamsters Joint Council 25 in Chicago. “By staying involved and educating one another, we will create the solidarity necessary to squash these union busting bills.”

As union members and supporters surged through the Indiana statehouse on January 4, local rallies to oppose the bills were also being held. At a rally in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Mayor Tom Henry announced his opposition to the proposed legislation.

Prior to the January 4 rally in Indianapolis, state officials announced that they would limit the number of people who could enter the statehouse to no more than 3,000. The announcement drew widespread criticism, and Gov. Mitch Daniels said that the limitation on people’s free speech would not be enforced.

Republicans were unable to get the quorum they needed to conduct business in the lower house on January 4 as Democratic representatives caucused in a conference room to plan how they could defeat the legislation. As of the morning of January 5, Democrats continue to caucus and remain absent from the house floor.

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