Governor signs right-to-work law as thousands protest at Statehouse
By Samm Quinn
The Statehouse File
Thousands of union members protested outside - and even more were inside - the Statehouse on Wednesday as the Senate passed a right-to-work bill. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, The Statehouse File.
INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Mitch Daniels signed right-to-work into law Wednesday almost immediately after the Indiana Senate moved it to his desk on a 28-22 vote.
The bill’s passage into law came as thousands of protestors swarmed the Statehouse and marched through downtown Indianapolis as the city prepared to host the Super Bowl.
It also marked the end of a year-long struggle that saw Democrats flee the state for five weeks last year, frequent mass protests at the Statehouse and constant partisan wrangling – and perhaps the beginning of a bitter fall campaign season.
The bill, which takes effect March 14, makes it illegal to require workers to pay fees to unions they don’t join, even if those groups must represent them in bargaining situations.
Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, said the bill gives “the workers in this state the choice as to whether they want to pay dues or not. And it’s going to require the unions to make the case to its workers as to whether they add value or not via that membership.”
Turner Corn, a union member from Crawford County, plays a song he wrote about paying union dues. Corn was entertaining protesters waiting to get into the Statehouse on Wednesday as the Senate debated a right-to-work bill. By Lesley Weidenbener, The Statehouse File.
Speaking to the protesters, Hershman said that “everyone in this gallery today, everyone in that hallway, has made that choice, that they believe the union membership adds value. There’s data that suggests in right to work states there is higher union membership than in Indiana. The unions have not gone away.”
The governor’s signature makes Indiana the 23rd state with a right-to-work law and the first in a decade. Oklahoma was the last state to adopt such a law in 2001.
Republicans argue the new law will boost Indiana’s economic prospects, but Democrats say the move will harm unions, increase safety risks for workers, decrease wages and jeopardize workers’ pensions.
Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said the bill is part of a larger radical GOP agenda.
“It’s easy to be discouraged,” Tallian said. “But I want to tell you. I do have faith. America has weathered this kind of things so many times before.”
The right-to-work discussion won’t end with the governor’s signature. Experts and union leaders say the issue will be important in November’s elections.
Jim Ogdon, a union electrician who has been protesting for weeks at the Statehouse, said the large rally Wednesday is “a kickoff to the November elections.”
“That’s the only way this is going to change is to vote the Republicans out that proposed this and are voting for it,” Ogdon said.
Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, said right to work will be the most important issue in November’s election for Indiana House and Senate candidates.
He said the issue will drive candidates and parties to recruit volunteers and donors who are passionate about the issue.
Thousands of union members protested Wednesday outside the Statehouse as inside the Senate debated a right-to-work bill. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, The Statehouse File
“I expect some really hotly contended races for the Indiana House and Senate,” he said. “I think a lot of candidates will have more aggressive and willing volunteers.”
He said the groups that will volunteer for campaigns will be passionate, and “dedicated and willing volunteers can win the race.”
But Ed Feigenbaum, publisher of Indiana Legislative Insight, said right to work’s effect on the elections will depend on the area of the state.
He said right to work will be an important issue in Lake County, Muncie, Anderson and other areas that have strong labor organizations, but may not be as important to Hoosiers living in rural areas.
Right to work will “serve to energize the party’s base,” but the extent of its effect on the election depends upon “what extent Democrats are able to win the message battle,” Feigenbaum said.
He also said Democrats are going to have to work hard to win the majority in both chambers because the districts are “stacked against them.”
Thousands of union members protested a right-to-work bill Wednesday on the Statehouse lawn. Inside, the Senate was debating the legislation. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, The Statehouse File
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said workers opposing right to work will calm down towards the end of the year when they realize the things they fear it will do to Indiana aren’t the case.
He said he’s not worried about what right to work will mean for his reelection in November, but he is prepared.
“Our team is ready and it has been ready,” he said.
Like Democrats, the protesters who marched through the streets Wednesday said they fear the bill will be the end of unions.
“Unions will still be allowed to exist; they will still be allowed to thrive,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury.
Democrats said they aren’t convinced it’s going to create jobs.
“There is no empirical evidence, if you take the time to read the studies, that right to work creates one job,” said Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson, D-Elletsville.
Indiana State AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott called the bill a “right to work for less.”
“They have set our state upon a path that will lead to lower wages for all working Hoosiers, less safety at work and less dignity and security in old age or ill health,” she said. “Indiana’s elected officials have given the wrong answer to the most important question of this generation.”
Sen. Lindel Hume, D-Princeton, said right to work will lead to unions having less money.
“When you take away the unions’ opportunity to be funded, you take away their effectiveness,” he said.
Daniels said Indiana needs a right-to-work law and the only impact it will have is a positive one.
“This law won’t be a magic answer but we’ll be far better off with it,” he said. “I respect those who have objected but they have alarmed themselves unnecessarily: no one’s wages will go down, no one’s benefits will be reduced, and the right to organize and bargain collectively is untouched and intact.”
Samm Quinn is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.