Indiana panel OKs labor bill as unions protest

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Kevin Rader/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - A Republican-led Indiana House committee has advanced so-called right-to-work legislation after hearing opponents argue that it was aimed at weakening unions and would drive down wages.

The House employment committee voted 8-5 along party lines Monday to send to the full House the bill prohibiting union membership and fees from being a condition of employment.

The chanting started early while thousands of union workers passed the time in the long lines while waiting to enter the people's house. Once inside they crowded the Statehouse hallways, trying to hear the testimony emanating from one of the smallest committee rooms.

"You can't be forced to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment," said Rep. Gerry Torr (R-Hamilton County).

Torr, the bill's author, says his right to work bill would actually make unions more responsible to the rank and file.

Read the bill here.

"It's all about money. The rich want to get richer and make sure I am a little poorer," said Jerome Davidson, one of many speakers at the union rally Monday.

"Everything you wear, you eat, you touch is made by a union worker," said Rosa Maria Rodriguez.

"Without the union, I feel all my rights would be stripped from me. I've been there before. I don't want to go there," said Vanessa Jenkins.

Upstairs union supporters sporting signs crowded the second, third and fourth floors, singing and chanting "Ditch Mitch" - a reference to Gov. Mitch Daniels - and "kill the bill!"

"All you hear about this thing that the government saying, or the news people are saying that they want to...make it a right to work state and bring people in here, these jobs, these companies, all they're bringing in is $8, $9-an-hour jobs. I'd like to see somebody support a family on an $8 or $9-an-hour job. That's ridiculous. That's what Mitch and his buddies are doing," said Carl Leingruber, New Palestine.

Mixed in between the union workers against the bill were representatives from various Chamber of Commerce organizations and a few brave people who spoke out in favor.

"We are not here against unionization. We are speaking out because we want the freedom to chose," said Marion Gonzales.

Union members carrying signs reading "Stop the war on labor" and "Jobs with justice" arrived early for Monday's hearing before the Republican-controlled Indiana House's employment committee. They chanted, "Kill the bill!" as the lined snaked around the corner of the Statehouse.

Backers argue it would remove an impediment to business in the state, while opponents say such laws drive down wages by weakening unions.

Democrat lawmakers fueled the faithful.

"Instead of slapping our workers in the face, how about giving them a pat on the back?" said Rep. Terry Goodin (D-Crothersville).

"Collective bargaining, they say, is about the deficit, is about the budget. It's about union busting," said Sen. Vi Simpson (D-Bloomington). "They are going after the heart of America."

"We are here today first and forecast to ensure that we all rise together," said Nancy Guyott, Indiana president of AFL-CIO.

Other signs included, "End the war on the middle class" and "protect workers' rights." Another just had the acronym "RTW" for "right to work" inside a circle with a line drawn through it.

"I urge lawmakers to loosen the death grip that unions have on Indiana business. Allowing us to flourish again," said Marshal Carrol.

"My livelihood, my neighborhood, the future of every child in this state," said John Brody, who made the trek from Evansville. If he could, he says he would like to ask Gov. Mitch Daniels one question. "I'd have to find out if he is actually a Hoosier" because on this day, Brody isn't so sure.

The bill is so contentious that Gov. Daniels has said he would prefer that legislators focus on other issues. The governor had shoulder surgery last week and was not expected at the Statehouse Monday.