Indiana likely to revisit divisive ‘Right-to-Work’ debate

Issue permeates Indianapolis just ahead of ‘Organization Day’

November 22, 2011

Download Story
(AP/Tom Strattman)
Union members protest proposed right-to-work legislation outside the Indiana Statehouse in March.
(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Indiana House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer (D-South Bend)

Indiana Republicans and Democrats come together Tuesday in Indianapolis for what’s called Organization Day, a kind of symbolic start to the new legislative session that often sets a tone for what’s to come.

And what’s to come could be more fighting between the minority Democrats and majority Republicans.

GOP leaders in the both the Indiana House and Senate on Monday announced plans to try to pursue so-called “right to work” legislation. If adopted, the law would stop requirements that force workers to join unions or pay dues as a condition of employment. Similar legislation has caused political uproars in other states, most recently in Ohio.

“I don’t expect a free-for-all but I do expect an intense debate,” Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said in Indianapolis on Monday. “There are very strongly-held feelings on this (right to work) issue.”

Democrats fought right to work provisions during the last legislative session. Because they’ve been in the minority in both legislative houses, their most effective tool was to simply be absent from statehouse work. Democrats walked out of the House last spring and didn’t return for five weeks. They spent most of their time at a hotel near Urbana, Ill.

“We may be in the minority but we have a duty to protect ourselves against the tyranny of the majority,” said House minority leader Patrick Bauer, a Democrat from South Bend.

Bauer counters Republican claims that such legislation would make Indiana more competitive in luring businesses and jobs to the Hoosier state.

“This could be the eventual decline and fall of Indiana being an economic, viable state,” Bauer said.

Bauer would not say whether Democrats would walk out of the upcoming legislative session if right to work legislation is introduced.

Senate Pro Tem David Long says the legislation is not about getting rid of unions.

“This effort will not and does not seek to eliminate unions in our state, nor will unions be eliminated in our state,” said Long, a Republican from Fort Wayne.

The new session begins in January.