Union protests at Statehouse on GOP proposals

February 15, 2011

Several hundred steelworkers hit the halls of the Statehouse on Tuesday to protest what they called an "anti-worker agenda" of the Republican majorities in the Indiana House and Senate.

The future of the bill drawing the strongest ire of the union members remained uncertain as a Republican committee chairman said a decision had not been made on whether so-called right-to-work legislation would be considered this session. Organizers said more than 600 United Steelworkers members from around the state attended Tuesday's event.

Labor unions have opposed a bill moving through the Legislature to fix Indiana's debt-ridden unemployment insurance fund that would reduce jobless benefits for many recipients and soften tax increases on businesses.

The state has borrowed $2 billion from the federal government, and a plan backed by Gov. Mitch Daniels aims to repay that money by 2020 in part with changes estimated to mean a 25-percent reduction in the state's unemployment benefit payments.

Democrats and labor groups also have argued that the right-to-work legislation backed by many Republicans would drive down wages by weakening unions. The bill would prohibit union membership and fees from being a condition of employment.

Pete Trinidad, vice president of Local 6787 at the ArcelorMittal steel mill in Burns Harbor, said members had written hundreds of letters about their concerns that were being given to House Speaker Brian Bosma and other legislators.

"I believe this right to work and state unemployment and things that they're doing isn't about trying to balance the budget — it's about trying to silence labor and for us to not have a voice in the democratic process," Trinidad said.

Rep. Douglas Gutwein, chairman of the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he believed the legislation would help the state's economy, but it might not be acted upon this year with the Legislature dealing with issues such as the state budget and changes to the education system.

"We've got some pretty hot topics right now, maybe this can wait — we'll have to see," said Gutwein, R-Francesville.

Gutwein disputed the argument that Republican legislators were out to hurt workers.

"The bottom line is I think some the measures we're taking are going to create jobs and improve our education system," he said.

Terie Creal of Merrillville, who works for U.S. Steel in Gary, said she was worried that the actions of legislators would end up making working people poorer.

"Our people have worked hard and long," she said. "We don't want to give back our rights."


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