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Protest greets lawmakers

December 12, 2011

Scott Heath and Jordan Painter hold banner. (Photos by J Swygart)

    Union members from Adams County and the surrounding area descended on Decatur Saturday morning to share with local lawmakers their views about the so-called "Right-To-Work" legislation that is certain to be debated in the Indiana General Assembly beginning next month.
    Dozens of representatives of various labor unions — ranging from steelworkers to autoworkers to local carpenter trades — greeted State Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, and State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, as the legislators entered the Decatur library for a routine town hall-type meeting scheduled by Lehman.
    Some of the union members scattered along Third Street carried signs saying "Stay union strong — No RTW." Still others stood behind large banners which read "Right to Work: Shame on You."
    The issue which has unified the laborers is the likelihood that state lawmakers will, during the upcoming legislative "short session," take up a debate which is seen as by organized labor as an attempt to severely weaken unions.
    The Right To Work law, which Republican leaders in the Indiana House and Senate have said will be a focal point of the upcoming session, would make Indiana the 23rd state in the nation to pass a RTW law which would bar companies and unions from negotiating a contract that requires non-members to pay fees for representation.
    The debate actually started last year in Indianapolis and ultimately led Democrat members of the House to leave the state briefly during the General Assembly session. Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin staged a similar walkout as that state attempted to weaken union memberships.
    Job creation reportedly is the impetus behind the support for a Right-To-Work law in Indiana, but Tom Case, a member of a local carpenters' union and the unofficial spokesperson for the group stationed outside the Decatur library on Saturday, said right-to-work legislation "does not necessarily guarantee jobs."
    "There should be more focus on creating good jobs, with benefits and security and retirement packages," he said.
    Inside the library, Lehman and Holdman were peppered with arguments against RTW legislation. Mike Snyder, president of United Steelworkers Local 15173 representing workers at Bunge North America plant in Decatur, called the proposed legislation the "right to freeload" bill, allowing non-union workers to enjoy benefits earned over decades of union efforts.
    We've worked our butts off to have these benefits," said Snyder. "It's an asinine thought that anyone could work (in a union shop) and not be charged dues. This (RTW bill) is just another example of corporate greed."

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