By Benjamin Yount | Statehouse News Online
INDIANAPOLIS — In less than seven minutes, eight Republicans pushed Indiana’s right-to-work legislation — which would affect about 1 percent of workers — out of committee and to a final vote Friday in the state’s House of Representatives.
Those same eight Republicans answered no questions and listened to no testimony on the proposal, which would free private-sector workers from paying union dues and fees if they opted not to join.
This quick hearing may foreshadow the fate of House Bill 1001, commonly referred to as right-to-work legislation, which could get speedy passage in the Republican-controlled House — if House Democrats don’t walk out again and delay the vote.
The contentious handling of HB 1001 raised the ire of Democrats and had union members like Steve Folz yelling in protest as they walked out of Tuesday’s Employment, Labor and Pension Committee hearing.
The Republicans “have not allowed any Democratic input throughout this whole session,” said Folz, a member of the Evansville local of the Laborers International Union of North America with 13 locals in Indiana, representing construction workers. “This is all just crammed this down our throats.”
Bill sponsor, state Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, who is shepherding it through the House, said Republicans are not going to allow the bill’s opponents to turn the legislative process into a circus.
“I didn’t choose the way the hearing was handled,” Torr said after the morning meeting. “But we could have had four, six, eight hours of testimony, and the vote would have been eight to five. Everybody knows that.”
Torr said Tuesday’s committee hearing came after lawmakers listened to hours of testimony on right to work during a special joint House and Senate hearing last week.
But state Rep. David Niezgodski, D-South Bend, said the committee’s gavel-in, gavel-out maneuver should outrage people.
“We should be furious,” Niezgodski said. “(The Republicans) have trampled on all of the rights of Hoosiers.”
Niezgodski and his fellow Democrats tried to attach a number of amendments to the right-to-work legislation, but Republicans stonewalled the effort by saying the amendments were either too late or not serious attempts to improve the legislation.
The amendments, which were made public after the committee hearing, would have:
- Stopped employers from firing a worker with just cause;
- Required the Indiana’s Chamber of Commerce to represent workers who are not dues-paying members;
- Required that public works projects have 90 percent of their workers be from Indiana;
- Stopped a company or business from not hiring an applicant because he is unemployed and from doing a credit check on an applicant.
The fight over the amendments and Tuesday’s hearing is expected to do little to end the acrimony inside the statehouse in Indianapolis. Democrats staged a three-day walkout last week and delayed action of the right-to-work legislation.
Niezgodski said Democrats could walk out again.
“We’re going to do everything within our power, and use everything within our means to make sure that the public has full awareness of this issue,” Niezgodski said after Tuesday’s meeting.
Torr said Tuesday’s committee hearing, no matter how it was handled, is not going to keep Democrats in their seats.
“I suspect they are going to walk out again no matter what we do,” said Torr.
The right-to-work legislation now is headed for another procedural step, a second reading in the House as early as Thursday. Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he hopes to have a final vote on right to work by Friday.
However, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
show union membership and power waning in Indiana over the past decade. Even though total employment dropped 168,000, or 6.2 percent from 2000 through 2010, union membership dropped, 141,000, or almost 34 percent.
And despite having a closed-shop law that the current right-to-work bill is attempting to overturn, workers who do not belong to unions but are represented by them declined 149,000, or 32 percent.
As of November 2011, preliminary data, only 34,000 Indiana workers could be affected by the right-to-work law.
The Democrats’ return to the House this week stopped the clock on Indiana’s anti-bolting law, which takes effect after three days of unexcused absences from the Legislature. But Bosma’s office is quick to say the the speaker can, at his own discretion, fine absent lawmakers or have legislative staff members compel attendance inside the statehouse.
But the House may have the final word on right to work.
Wayne Dale, who came to Indianapolis from Lafayette where he is a sub-district director for the United Steel Workers, said voters are going to hold Indiana Republicans accountable at the ballot box in November. The union has 72 locals, representing employees in the manufacturing, metal, mining, pharmaceutical, energy and utility, paper and forestry and chemical industries.
“The voters of Indiana are going to remember that this is dictatorship,” Dale said. “Where is the Democracy?”
Asked if the union is planning additional demonstrations this session, Dale said, “We’ll have a final say in elections. … We’ll stop them at the ballot box.”