Legislature and Unions and State Government and Legislation and Lobbyists and Government & Economic Development and Government and Labor and Public policy

Democratic lawmakers leave Indiana, block labor bill

February 22, 2011

Indiana House Democrats took a page from the playbook of their counterparts in Wisconsin on Tuesday, refusing to show up and at least temporarily blocking a Republican-backed labor bill.

Nearly all stayed away from the Statehouse completely and headed more than a 100 miles west to neighboring Illinois. Only three of 40 House Democrats were in the chamber when Republican Speaker Brian Bosma tried repeatedly to convene it, leaving the chamber short of the two-thirds needed for a quorum.

The Democratic caucus issued a statement Tuesday night saying members had relocated to Urbana, Ill., "for the immediate future" to continue reviewing Republican proposals on public education changes and so-called right-to-work legislation that would prohibit union representation fees from being a condition of employment at most private-sector companies.

"By staying here, we will be giving the people of Indiana a chance to find out more about this radical agenda and speak out against it," the statement said. "We will remain here until we get assurances from the governor and House Speaker Brian Bosma that these bills will not be called down in the House at any time this session."

While the desks of 37 Democratic legislators were empty, several hundred union members crowded the adjourning hallways and held up signs to windows looking into the House with slogans such as "Stop the War on Workers."

It was the second day of large union crowds at the Statehouse, with the spark being a GOP-led committee on Monday taking up the right-to-work legislation.

Wisconsin's Senate hasn't been able to take up a bolder measure that would strip nearly all public employees' bargaining rights since that chamber's Democrats left the state Thursday.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who had urged fellow GOP legislators not to act on the right-to-work bill this year, told reporters he would not use state troopers to compel Democratic legislators to return. Daniels had said he was worried that acting on the contentious right-to-work issue could derail other parts of his legislative agenda.

"I trust people's consciences will bring them back to work," Daniels said. "I choose to believe that our friends in the minority, having made their point, will come back and do their duty, the jobs that they're paid to do."

Because House Democrats skipped the entire day's floor session before Bosma adjourned Tuesday night, the right-to-work legislation missed a procedural deadline for further consideration. However, Republicans could find other ways to consider it later.

Republicans released a list of 23 bills they said would fail at the same deadline, although none are on major topics.

Minority walkouts in the Indiana House have happened periodically in the past, including in 2001 by Republicans and 2005 by Democrats.

Union groups oppose the right-to-work bill as well as some other proposals moving through the Legislature, including restricting teacher collective bargaining rights, expanding charter schools and reducing jobless benefits for some people as part of a plan to fix the state's debt-ridden unemployment insurance fund.

Rep. Terri Austin of Anderson, one of the Democrats on the House floor Tuesday, said Republicans have put forth a very partisan agenda that Democrats would keep fighting until the legislative session ends in late April.

"We've still got time," Austin said. "There is time to work out some compromises and that's what we hope we will be able to do."

Jerome Davison, an officer of the 3,400-member Steelworkers union at the ArcelorMittal steel mill in Burns Harbor, applauded the Democrats' boycott and said union members planned to continue showing up at the Statehouse.

"This is not a policy no one cares about," Davison said. "This is about paychecks and benefits."

Republican leaders, however, described Democrats as trying to kill legislation that could help the state.

"It is our responsibility to examine and discuss and decide upon policies that could be helpful to the citizens of Indiana in creating and retaining jobs so that we can grow our economy," said House Majority Leader William Friend, R-Macy. "We should at least have that discussion."

ADVERTISEMENT

Recent Articles by Associated Press

Comments powered by Disqus