Right to Work in Indiana – Will This Battle Impact 2012 Super Bowl?

A guest post by Bob Sloan; read more from this author at the Daily Kos.

Indiana Republicans, who hold solid majorities in the state House and Senate as well as the governor's mansion, have once again taken up "Right-To-Work." Indiana tried passing anti-union legislation last year but the effort stalled amidst public outcry. Despite this, Right-to-Work legislation was one of the first pieces taken up by the GOP majority in the 2012 session.

Both houses fast tracked the bills -- Senate Bill 269 and House Bill 1001 -- hoping to push them through in the face of stiff opposition from both Indiana Democrats and labor activists. "Fast tracking" was necessary as Republicans want to put this legislation to rest before the Super Bowl here in Indianapolis next month. As game day approaches the fight over this right-to-work legislation may turn into a national discussion on the issue.

"Right to Work," Round Two

Last year, Indiana was one of several states with newly-elected Republican majorities to propose anti-union legislation. On February 17th, 2011 Wisconsin Democrats absconded from their state to deprive the GOP majority the quorum necessary to pass Governor Scott Walker's proposal to end collective bargaining for public employees. Five days later, Indiana's Democrat lawmakers followed their lead and left Indiana for the same reason. At the time, Governor Daniels backed off his support for the "Right To Work" bill, saying: "I think if you're going to try to do something that fundamental, you owe it to the public to have that kind of an airing first, and that has not happened here." Governor Daniels stated he didn't want Republican lawmakers to force the right-to-work issue, which they had not campaigned on, because it would distract from his agenda. Following the Governor's lead, Republicans shelved the bill -- until this year's session began.

Last week, as Indiana Republicans again used their majorities to try forcing passage of the right-to-work bill, Democrats stalled by refusing to return to the House chambers, caucusing elsewhere to prevent Republicans from obtaining the quorum necessary to continue. On Tuesday of this week, House Speaker Brian Bosma agreed to allow Democrats to introduce an amendment to put the question to voters via a public referendum. However, lawyers for the state's Legislative Services Agency found that the Indiana Constitution "does not include a referendum option" for enacting laws, only for constitutional amendments. Democrats said that Republicans were using the question of how a referendum could be applied as an excuse to vote against it, and refused to return to the House Chambers so the right-to-work legislation would remain stalled.

Governor Daniels' statement last year that "if you're going to try to do something that fundamental, you owe it to the public to have that kind of an airing first" has changed. Today his new position is that "he believes there is overwhelming public support in favor of the right-to-work bill." He is taking part in an advertising campaign operated by a group called the "Indiana Opportunity Fund," (IOF) whose website is titled www.moreindianajobs.com. The ads show Governor Daniels speaking in support of the right-to-work legislation and making several claims that the law would be beneficial to Indiana workers and create more jobs for Hoosiers. Opponents counter that these claims made by the IOF, and specifically the Governor, are without any factual basis. IOF is connected to Jim Bopp, an Indiana attorney who was deeply involved in the now infamous Citizen's United U.S. Supreme Court case, as well as a number of other challenges to fair elections laws. Bopp founded the group as a "charity," which means the donors can be kept secret.

Scrambling for Resolution Before Super Bowl

I have visited the Statehouse several times over the past two weeks as this contentious battle has ebbed and flowed. Each week the Super Bowl date moves nearer. A week ago opponents of the RTW legislation met at the Capital, and after protesting there, marched to the Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Super Bowl will be played. Union leaders spoke to those assembled, and applauded the support they'd received from the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) in a statement indicating solidarity with the workers of Indiana.

On Thursday -- with Democratic lawmakers still absent -- Rep. Bosma tried but was unable to convene the House at 9:00 am. Another attempt at 11:30 also failed. Four of the forty House Democrats are in attendance and many of the boycotting Democrats continue taking part in committee meetings held in the Statehouse, but are staying off the floor.

Rep. Bosma has turned down an offer from Democratic leader Rep. Patrick Bauer that Democrats would return to the House to act on bills other than the right-to-work proposal. This demonstrates the GOP's primary focus is on the RTW bills and until they are able to push them through, they will sacrifice other important legislative matters. The Speaker is imposing fines of $1,000.00 per day for each member who fails to report to the House Chamber. These fines are to be paid personally out of their legislative pay and travel expenses.

ALEC Influence Apparent

Indiana's right-to-work legislation is modeled on a template developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Speaker Bosma is an ALEC member and sits on the ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force and on ALEC's Civil Justice Task Force. Rep. Dave Frizzell, Rep. Cindy Noe, Rep. Peggy Welch (D), and Sen. Jim Buck are also ALEC members. Frizzell was just elected to serve as ALEC's National Chairman, taking over from Rep. Noble Ellington (R-LA)

In an interview, Indiana's AFL-CIO Communications Director Jeff Harris says his Union is aware this anti-worker legislation originates with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Harris said that just prior to the start of the legislative session, ALEC sent a contingent to Indianapolis to help bolster support for this "anti-worker" legislation. Mr. Harris stated he believes Indiana may have more ALEC members than other states and that the AFL-CIO and other "unions here in Indiana are well aware of ALEC" and their involvement in writing and disseminating legislation, including the current RTW bill.

AFL-CIO Confident RTW Will Be Defeated

Harris said he was "confident that this legislation will come to a vote prior to the Super Bowl and be defeated," adding that many Republicans, including Rep. David Wolkins, "had dropped support of the bill and would vote against it" when it came up for a final vote. Rep. Wolkins' alleged opposition is significant -- he is an ALEC member and past ALEC State Chairman.

When asked if there would be any striking or other efforts at the Super Bowl, Harris said a general labor strike is prohibited in Indiana, but union organizers are preparing activities to protest the attack upon worker's rights for each day of the Super Bowl events, including inside the "Super Bowl Village."

Harris expressed gratitude that the NFLPA supported the unions and workers in this fight. With just sixteen days before the big game -- and less until visitors begin to arrive and take part in the festivities -- time is running out for confining this labor argument to Indiana. It is rumored the protesting Indiana Democratic lawmakers will be returning to the House floor on Monday to introduce amendments allowing Indiana voters to decide on the right-to-work question. Hoosiers are hopeful a resolution is reached quickly, avoiding any conflict with the upcoming Super Bowl festivities that have been in the works for more than a year. The return of Indiana Democrats to the House Monday heightens this hope, but the final outcome is still unknown -- with Super Bowl activities beginning in less than ten days.


The author listed as "PRwatch Editors" is for reports attributable to CMD's editors or guest authors.