Wed., January 11, 2012 4:15pm (EST)

Indiana Democrats Losing Right-To-Work Fight
By Brandon Smith
Updated: 2 years ago

Republican legislators and Gov. Mitch Daniels continue a push to make Indiana the 23rd right-to-work state in the country. Democrats there are working to delay the process as long as possible, but their options are becoming increasingly limited.

"This is such an important bill, such a controversial bill, [that] the whole state ought to hear from it," says Minority Leader Pat Bauer.

The Democratic leader says the goal of his caucus is to buy more time for the public to study the bill.

"We don't need to ram it through," Bauer says.

Republicans say they've done their due diligence. Over the summer, a legislative study committee took 20 hours of testimony on right-to-work. And a joint House and Senate committee spent more than five hours on the bill last week.

Speaking at that committee meeting, Democratic Sen. Jim Arnold all but conceded defeat.

"I truly don't believe that any minds or any votes are going to be changed by what was said here today," Arnold said.

Stuck On Repeat

This isn't the first time Republicans have tried to pass right-to-work in Indiana.

Last year, pushing the bill sent House Democrats fleeing to Illinois for five weeks, halting business in the legislature, and forcing Republicans to take it off the table.

This time around, Democrats have stayed in Indianapolis, but off the House floor. They denied a quorum the first three days of session last week.

The two sides seem entrenched. Right-to-work legislation would ban union contracts that require non-union employees to pay fees for representation. Supporters say it will bring more jobs to Indiana. Opponents say it's nothing more than a union-busting bill that will create lower wages and worsen safety conditions.

With Democrats doing their best to stall it again, Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma says this new session smacks of the movie Groundhog Day.

"We will do our very best to encourage them to do what is right, which is to show up at work and do what they were elected to do, even if you disagree with what you think the result might be," Bosma says. "Democracy is about participating, not going on strike."

Added Leverage

But Republicans have some added leverage this time.

An anti-bolting statute was passed last session and daily, $1,000 fines could be assessed on members absent three or more days straight without an excuse. Bauer acknowledges the difficulty the threat of fines puts on his caucus.

"And we know we can't stay out indefinitely," he says, "But we did need to slow the process down, which we've succeeded in doing."

Over the weekend, Democrats held public meetings around the state. On Monday, House Democrats returned to the floor, allowing the chamber to finally conduct business. But the legislative cease-fire didn't last long.

By Tuesday morning right-to-work passed a House committee along party lines. The committee chairman didn't allow more public testimony or amendments to be heard and House Democrats left the floor again. Whether they come in for session each day is in a constant state of flux.

Brian Vargus, a professor of political science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, says the idea that Bauer keeps stressing is that more time will allow the public to be educated and make their voices heard. But he's not seeing any signs of that.

"The hearings they had around the state did not generate that much coverage," he says, "and I don't know that they were attended by anybody but union members who were already involved."

Vargus says hoping public opinion will sway enough Republicans to defeat the measure is the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass. And even though Pat Bauer represents South Bend, home to the Fighting Irish, this legislative game appears to be in the final quarter and, it looks like there's little to stop right-to-work from becoming law in the coming weeks.


Copyright 2012 Indiana Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.bsu.edu/ipr/.