Indiana workers flood Capitol to stop “right-to-work” law

INDIANAPOLIS – For the second day in a row, thousands of workers continued flooding the state Capitol here to protest Republican efforts to ram through a new right-to-work (for less) law.

Also, for the second day in a row, the GOP was unable to push through the legislation because House Democrats failed to show up for a vote, preventing the legislature from conducting any business. The state House of Representatives requires 67 members present for a quorum and Democrats hold 40 of the 100 seats.

Speaking by phone from outside the Capitol, Ohio AFL-CIO Communications Director Mike Gillis said, “People are continuing to pour in here. There are over a thousand in there now and more buses are arriving with workers coming from all over the state.”

In addition, Gillis said, the phone lines of Indiana lawmakers are tied up with callers voicing opposition to the new law which, he said “would not create a single job in Indiana and which would, in fact reduce Indiana wages.”

House Democrats say they are “caucusing” and that they will not allow a legislative rush-job. Citizens of the state need more time to consider the effects of the proposed bill, they say.

The scene in Indianapolis today is reminiscent of the mass protests here last year. At that time Indiana Democrats left the state for weeks to block action on a variety of bills that would have destroyed union rights, including the right to collective bargaining. They returned only when the Republicans agreed to table their effort to ram through the measures.

The right-to-work (for less) law the GOP wants to pass in Indiana this week is similar to ones in place in 22 other states. Those laws prohibit union contracts from requiring workers to pay union dues but require unions to represent everyone at the workplace, including those who do not pay dues.

Democratic House leader Patrick Bauer of South Bend described what Democrats are doing as a “ilibuster, not a protest or walkout.”

” We refuse to let the most controversial public policy bill of a decade be railroaded through with the public being denied their fair and adequate input,” Bauer said. Unless GOP leaders agree to hold hearings throughout the state on the right-to-work (for less) bill, Democrats won’t be coming back anytime soon, he added.

Republican Speaker Brian Bosma tried three times yesterday to gavel the House into order, but each time no more than five of the 40 Democratic members were on the floor. He claimed the GOP effort to ram through the bill was critical for fixing Indiana’s economy.

But Gordon Lafer, a political economist and professor at the University of Oregon Labor and Education Research Center, said in a phone interview hat “rigorous and properly designed studies have found that right-to-work laws reduce wages by $1,500 a year, for union and nonunion workers, and lower the likelihood that union and nonunion employees get health care coverage or pensions through their jobs. They have also found that ‘right-to-work’ laws have no impact on job growth in states that adopt them.” Lafer is the author of a detailed Economic Policy Institute report on the subject, available online.

Indiana’s Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels tried to head off the current round of protests last week by severely limiting the number of protesters that could be allowed into the Capitol.

On Wednesday morning he caved into intense public pressure and rescinded the order that would have barred thousands from entering the Capitol.

Photo: Protesters line up to enter the Statehouse Jan. 4, in Indianapolis, where Republicans vow to push anti-labor legislation. Darron Cummings/AP


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik started as labor editor of the People's World in May, 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York. Along with being labor editor, Wojcik is a co-editor of