Union members representing several trades were on hand Saturday morning outside the Decatur library to greet two state lawmakers. (Photo by J Swygart)
State Rep. Matt Lehman on Saturday morning told a crowd comprised mostly of organized labor members that he will vote against a proposal to allow Hoosiers to determine at the ballot box the fate of a contentious right-to-work bill now being debated in the Indiana General Assembly.
The response from union supporters was perhaps summed up best by Decatur resident Daniel Jaurigue, a member of carpenters' union Local 232, who said: "We are watching how you vote, and we're going to fire you."
Lehman, R-Berne, and State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, met with constituents Saturday for the second time in a month at the public library in Decatur. And just like a Dec. 10 meeting held there by the lawmakers, the main topic for discussion on Saturday was a right-to-work bill that state Republican leaders have made the focal point of the current General Assembly session.
The bill would make Indiana the 23rd state in the nation to pass a law which would ban companies and unions from negotiating a contract that requires non-union members to pay a fee for representation.
Most Democrats in the Indiana House of Representatives have thus far boycotted hearings on the bill, but late last week House GOP leaders said they would not block a vote that would pave the way for a referendum to be placed before Indiana voters. Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma told the Associated Press he sees little chance of a referendum being approved in his chamber.
At a Dec. 10 town hall meeting held by Lehman and Holdman in Decatur, union members and supporters carried signs outside the library in opposition to the right-to-work bill. They were back again on Saturday morning, and in greater numbers. But unlike the previous meeting, when discussions inside the library were mostly cordial and measured, Saturday's session was more raucous and at times confrontational.
Lehman and Holdman, who one month earlier said they were inclined to support the right-to-work bill, were assailed by organized labor supporters on Saturday for allowing "CEOs and deep-pocket" corporate interests to drive the legislation.
"Why are corporations putting all their money being this?" asked Decatur resident Randy Hisner. "Because they want all the power, that's why."
Mike Snyder, president of United Steelworkers Local 15173 representing workers at the Bunge North America plant in Decatur, told the state lawmakers that right-to-work legislation "pits worker against worker, and (as a result) the continuity of the workforce deteriorates."
Snyder offered a list of workplace gains made by unions over the past half century. Among those were the 40-hour work week, insurance and pension plans, maternity leave, increased safety measures in the work place and "a chance for the American dream."
"Union dues pay for these protections," said Snyder. "You can vote with the workers, or you can vote with the CEOs and deep pockets."
Jaurigue said he gladly pays union dues because much of that money goes into apprenticeship training and safety programs. "I don't want someone who is not trained — through my union dues — working beside me," he said. "The people should be able to vote for this (right-to-work law). We are watching your vote, and we are going to fire you."
Supporters of the right-to-work bill have said it is needed to put the state in a better position to attract business and industry. But Decatur resident Chris DesJean cited several economic surveys which placed Indiana near the top of a list of states already excelling in the creation of new jobs.
"Why do we need right-to-work," he asked the lawmakers.
Another union supporter said he has worked all over the country and has seen first-hand how right-to-work laws drive down wages.
"Wages in Missouri, which is not a right-to-work state, were $26 an hour, while right across the state line in Kansas, the same job was paying $9 an hour with no benefits. Why waste your time with this law?" he asked.
Near the end of the hour-long debate Ryan Marbach, a member of carpenter's union Local 232, again reminded Lehman and Holdman how tenuous their time in office could be.
"We are the ones who put you there, and we can replace you," Marbach said. "All the members of Local 232 ask you to vote against right-to-work."
Lehman said responses to online and paper surveys he has conducted are running about 60 percent in favor of the right-to-work bill.
The representative reminded told those in attendance that the right-to-work legislation was not the only bill pending in the General Assembly this session. "It's a huge issue, and I'm here listening, but this (bill) is not my number one priority," Lehman said.
The Berne Republican said he has introduced legislation that would limit the power of regional sewer boards, "and that's is my number one issue this session."