Determined union members are spearheading a growing, galvanized counterattack against state bills aimed at crippling the labor movement in Indiana and, in turn, prospects for a strong and viable middle class.
Indiana teachers joined more than 3,000 other Hoosier activists in Indianapolis Feb. 21, filling the state Capitol with protests against what's been dubbed a "right to work for less" scheme. The bill, designed to sap unions' effectiveness by weakening them financially, squeaked through a House committee on a party-line vote. But it hit a stone wall one day later, when Democratic House members took a page from battles in Wisconsin and walked out en masse rather than give the GOP majority the quorum it needed to steamroll the bill through the state Senate.
By Feb. 23, the Indianapolis Star was reporting that Gov. Mitch Daniels and Republican leaders in the House and Senate had agreed to stop active consideration of the bill and send it to a legislative committee to be studied later in the year.
The bill was just one of 11 fringe bills circulating in Indiana that attack both organized labor and the middle class—legislation that Democratic lawmakers refuse to see steamrolled onto the books. Democratic state House members have left the state and are determined to stay out, preventing a quorum the GOP needs in the legislature to act on bills that include a wholesale gutting of collective bargaining for teachers and reckless expansion of private school vouchers.
"The GOP has extended these bills for one week, and Democrats are resolved to do what it takes to stop it—we back them 100 percent," says Rick Muir, president of the Indiana Federation of Teachers. Despite bad weather, "we’ve had up to 10,000 turn out at the Capitol—you name it, teachers, steel workers, electricians, carpenters—standing up and showing determination."
The fringe legislation is "the spark that is getting more people to take a stand," Rick Muir told Mother Jones magazine. The bill, he said, is generating opposition that is "strong and growing in intensity."
On Feb. 22, 38 out of 40 Indiana House Democrats left the chamber, stopping the legislation in its tracks. A few hours later, Daniels—someone who has repeatedly clashed with labor over the years—signaled that even he wanted no part of the bill and characterized it as political overreach.
The battle was just the opening salvo in what promises to be a long and stormy legislative session in Indiana. Organized labor has joined forces with the community in fighting legislative attacks that include proposals to limit collective bargaining for educators to wages and benefits, expansion of private school vouchers and confiscation of the pensions of workers who strike.
"The cumulative effect of all these bills is an attack on the middle class and on the working men and women in Indiana," Muir warns. "It's a clear-cut strategy to weaken and destroy unions in this state." [Mike Rose/photos by Tom Strattman]
February 23, 2011