In an assault on workers and their unions in the heart of the once heavily industrialized and unionized Midwest, Indiana's Republican-controlled House passed a right to work for less bill yesterday.
The Senate must take up the issue again before anything can be sent to the governor for his signature because the measure that passed in the Senate last week was a different version of the bill that passed in the House yesterday.
If the bill is eventually signed into law by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels Indiana would become the first right to work for less state in the country's traditional manufacturing belt.
The House approved the law by a 54-44 margin, despite five Republicans having joined Democratic lawmakers to oppose it.
The state Senate voted 28 to 22 in favor of the senate's version of the bill, with nine Republicans joining all 13 Democrats in voting against it.
The vote in the House yesterday came as hundreds of protesters in the Statehouse shouted their disapproval, chanting, "Kill the Bill," and after weeks of protests by Democratic lawmakers themselves who tried numerous ways to stop the bill.
They refused to show up for debate despite the threat of fines that totaled $1,000 a day and introduced dozens of amendments aimed at delaying a vote. They finally agreed to allow a vote yesterday, conceding that they could not keep up their tactics forever since they were clearly outnumbered.
Indiana AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyot said unions are still working on the long shot bid to kill the measure in the Indiana Senate. "We're going to do everything in our power, we're only at the halfway point," Guyot said after the House vote.
Dean Baker, co director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said that the bill, in effect, imposes a tax on any worker who chooses to support a union.
He said that this was the case "because the bill requires that workers who support a union at the workplace must pay for the representation of workers who choose not to pay for the union's representation. This means that non-members not only get the same wages and benefits that the union gets for its members, they also are entitled to the union's protection in the event of disputes with the employer. It requires unions to provide free representation to non-members."
Democrats argued yesterday, in the hours of debate leading up to the vote, that the bill will lead to a downward spiral of wages that will hurt all workers, not just those in unions.
Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, was in tears as he spoke of his father and grandfather, union members who, he said, fought for the principles that workers have a voice.
"Mr. Speaker, I implore you. Please do not do this," he said.
Democratic Rep. Linda Lawson called the GOP measure an attack on union strongholds throughout the state.
"What you are doing is destroying my community," said Lawson, who represents a northwest Indiana district with heavy manufacturers and a BP oil refinery.
"What if I came into your community and said no more cows and no more pigs?" she said, referring to the agriculturally heavy districts represented by many of the Republicans who backed the right to work for less bill.
Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa, in a statement released right after the vote, promised a voter backlash like those seen in other states.
"I have little doubt in my mind that Gov. Daniels and Indiana's Republicans will see a tremendous backlash from their constituents if right-to work is passed," Hoffa said. "If there is one thing we have seen this past year, its that working men and women will rise up to challenge any legislation that threatens the welfare of their families."
Photo: Charles Cain of Columbus, Ind., holding a sign during a rally in the hallways of the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Jan. 23. Darron Cummings/AP