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Right to work passes despite vocal opposition

February 08, 2012
Indiana has become the 23rd state to enact controversial "right-to-work" legislation after Gov. Mitch Daniels signed his name to the bill last Wednesday, ending a two-year battle between Republican and Democrat legislators.

The bill was signed into law just days before the Super Bowl, a goal Republicans had set at the opening of the current session that began in early January.

Last year, after the Republican-controlled House and Senate tried to push the bill through, House Democrats left the state for weeks in protest and the bill was finally shelved, a move the governor supported. But, as the new session began, Republicans made it clear that passing the right-to-work bill was their priority and worked almost exclusively toward that goal.

That effort brought thousands of Hoosier workers and union members to Indianapolis in protest during the weeks since the session began. On the day the bill was passed, as many as 15,000 to 20,000 protesters showed up at the Statehouse for a final rally that was followed by an hour-long march through downtown Indianapolis.

"This law won't be a magic answer, but we'll be far better off with it," Daniels said after signing the bill. "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 is untouched and intact."

But most union members and many nonunion workers in Indiana believe otherwise.

"This thing is just a nightmare," said Cliff Kerce, a carpenter's union coordinator from Leavenworth. "And the entire political process on this bill has been sickening. There have even been several Republican legislators who have told us that they disagree with the bill but are under a huge amount of pressure to support it. But a lot of the Republicans already had their minds made up about it and weren't going to listen to anyone who opposed it."

The right-to-work bill will ban companies and unions from negotiating any contract that requires nonmembers to pay fees or dues for the representation unions are required to give them. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and other business groups that have supported and promoted the legislation consider the passage of the law a victory in the belief that it will encourage businesses to locate in the state.

Kerce said union workers aren't going to give up the fight.

"We may have lost this battle," he said, "but that doesn't mean we've lost the war. We'll now focus on the November elections, and you can bet we'll have an impact."

The House voted in favor of the bill, 54-44, with five Republicans joining 39 Democrats in opposition. The Senate passed the bill 28-22, as nine Republicans joined the chamber's 13 Democrats in voting against the measure. No Democrat voted in favor of the legislation.

According to a press release from the AFL-CIO, who it represents numerous unions throughout the state, no action was planned to interfere with the Super Bowl.

"Indiana State AFL-CIO does not plan or condone any attempts to disrupt the Super Bowl," said AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott. "While we understand the anger and frustration of working Hoosiers over the disgraceful passage of the so-called 'right-to-work' bill, the appropriate outlet will be at the ballot box, not the Super Bowl."

Some union members have indicated that there may be an effort to pass out informational leaflets during Super Bowl activities, but that there will be no effort to interfere with the game.

"We have been excited about the huge turnout of working people who came to Indianapolis to protest against right-to-work legislation," Kerce said. "And our march on Wednesday was the largest march ever in Indianapolis.

"The working people can't and won't give up. We're going to work and build a campaign that will remove from office those people who refused to listen to us and replace them with candidates who will not act on what corporations pay for but what the people of Indiana want."

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