February 15, 2012If there was any question before the legislative update Saturday morning, Feb. 4, what the main topic of discussion would be, it became quite clear even before the event began that the right-to-work legislation would dominate the nearly two-hour question-and-answer session in Corydon.
State Reps. Rhonda Rhoads, R-Corydon, and Steve Davisson, R-Salem, and State Sen. Richard Young, D-Milltown, fielded questions about right-to-work and other legislation from the capacity crowd that overflowed into the foyer area on the second floor of the Harrison County Justice Center.
Many opponents of right-to-work showed up at the meeting, some of whom were carrying signs in protest of the legislation.
In the week before the 32nd annual legislative update, held in the Superior courtroom, Indiana lawmakers passed legislation to make Indiana the 23rd right-to-work state. The bill prohibits agreements between labor unions and employers that make membership, payment of union dues or fees a condition of employment, either before or after hiring.
Opponents of the bill say it will lower wages and workers' benefits.
An attendee from Corydon asked the two Republicans who voted for right-to-work to explain their vote when he believed it would deteriorate, not enhance, the Hoosier workforce.
Rhoads said when companies look for a place to build or expand, being a right-to-work state makes Indiana more attractive for those businesses. She said there's 240,000 unemployed Hoosiers and the legislation will give Indiana a chance to add more jobs.
"It's another piece of the puzzle," she said.
Rhoads cited Oklahoma, the most recent state before Indiana to adopt the legislation, as having a cost-of-living improvement since the inception of right-to-work.
The comment drew a few sarcastic laughs from opponents.
Rhoads said the Indiana teachers union has been right-to-work since 1995 and it's still viable and strong, so the theory that the legislation was enacted to abolish unions altogether is unfounded.
"We don't want unions to go away," she said.
Rhoads said the proof is in the pudding with right-to-work, and there's a lot of people in this community who don't have a job and want to find one.
Young, who opposed the right-to-work legislation, spoke next and cited statistics showing declines in manufacturing jobs in Oklahoma since right-to-work was passed. He said the right-to-work advantage is meaningless. Young's comments received applause from some in the audience.
Davisson's response to Young was that the national economy has been so bad in recent years that all states have lost jobs and Oklahoma's losses had nothing to do with right-to-work. He said he thought right-to-work was a good thing and that it wouldn't drive out unions.
The legislators took another question about right-to-work, this time from Cliff Kerce, a member of the Carpenters Industrial Council, after moderator Peter J. Schickel said the entire time couldn't be taken up by right-to-work questions.
Kerce said the bill will destroy unions and affect the safety of workers and that Rhoads and Davisson ought to be ashamed for voting for it. He thanked Young for his work fighting against the legislation.
Mauckport resident Norman Dennison interjected and said a job is better than no job at all.
Davisson said he understood the need and positives of strong unions because his father was a union worker who was hurt on the job. After someone from the audience asked what his father thought of his vote for right-to-work, Davisson said he was in support of right-to-work. The questioner said she couldn't believe that.
"Well, he was, I'm sorry," Davisson said.
After discussing a few other topics, such as the school voucher plan and school budgets in general, Kerce went on the attack again, asking Rhoads about her $900,000 campaign budget when she defeated 32-year incumbent Paul Robertson.
"I wouldn't have spent so much if the unions weren't pushing Paul," Rhoads quipped.
She said her total spending was actually quite close to Robertson's, especially since she had a contested Primary Election to vie for and Robertson did not.
Rhoads then relayed a story about a union protester at the Statehouse who held a sign about being a father. Rhoads said she tried to start a conversation with the man about his kids, but he said he didn't have any kids, that he was just given the sign to protest.
Rhoads said there are people on both sides of the political aisle using different methods to help people of like mind.
"I'm doing the best I can," she said. "I try to listen to what people say."