TERRE HAUTE —
As Indiana House Democrats stalled legislative business for a second day in row Thursday, hundreds of union members crowded the Statehouse hoping to dissuade lawmakers from taking up a contentious labor bill.
Among those in the throng was Dan Arnett, a union steelworker from Logansport, who was hoping to convince his legislators to join the handful of Republicans ready to buck party leaders who’ve fast-tracked the right-to-work bill that has the Indiana General Assembly stuck in a stalemate.
“They’ve got to be looking around the Statehouse and seeing how many people are here,” Arnett said. “That’s got to make a difference.”
The Republicans who control the Statehouse are convinced they’ve got the votes they need to pass legislation that would make Indiana the first state in the nation to enact a right-to-work law since Oklahoma in 2001.
The bill, backed by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the well-heeled National Right to Work Committee, would it make a misdemeanor crime for an employer to require workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.
“I’m very confident we’ve got the votes we need,” said State Rep. Eric Turner of Cicero, a Republican sponsor of the bill. Republican State Sen. Carlin Yoder of Middlebury who’s carrying the bill in the Senate, is confident, too.
The GOP has a super-majority (two-thirds) in the Senate (37 Republican to 13 Democrats), which means it could pass the bill even if every Senate Democrat walked out.
House Democrats fear the same thing, which is why a majority of them refused to show up for a quorum call Thursday, the second day in a row.
Not all Republicans have fallen in line.
At least three GOP House members from union-heavy districts have said publicly they won’t support the legislation that Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has said is one of his top priorities. They include Rep. Tom Dermody from LaPorte, Rep. Ed Soliday of Valparaiso and Rep. Ron Bacon of Boonville.
A few others have said they’ve yet to decide. They include Rep. Mike Karickhoff of Kokomo and Rep. Rich McLain and Sen. Randy Head, both of Logansport. All three Republicans represent areas with significant union numbers.
So does Heath VanNatter, a Republican from Kokomo who was the target of a newspaper, TV and radio ad blitz by the Indiana AFL-CIO and its supporters. The ads urge people to call or email VanNatter to tell him to vote against the right-to-work bill.
VanNatter first found out about the ad blitz when a friend called. “He said he saw it on ESPN during the (Jan. 3) Fiesta Bowl,” VanNatter said. “I heard it was on during a few other bowl games as well.”
VanNatter said he’s leaning toward supporting the bill. “But I need to see the (bill’s) final language,” said VanNatter. “It needs to get farther along in the process.”
The ads are targeted at Republicans who may be vulnerable in the 2012 elections if they vote in favor of the measure.
Rep. Ed Clere, a New Albany Republican, has been among the GOP targets. Clere said he’s supportive of right-to-work legislation, but he’s refused to sign a National Right to Work pledge that he said locks him into “unequivocal support.”
“I try not to take a position on a certain bill until I see the language of the bill,” Clere said. “I think I owe it to my constituents to evaluate each piece of legislation on its merits.”
The fight over the legislation is generating national attention. The New York Times ran a story about it earlier this week. Labor unions in Chicago opened telephone banks this week, from which their members could make calls to Indiana legislators, urging them to vote against the bill.
Meanwhile, Daniels and House Speaker Brian Bosma have been airing their own ads in support of the legislation, and the National Right to Work Committee has sent staff members to the state to try to gain grass-roots support for the legislation.
Maureen Hayden is the Indiana Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI, the parent company of the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.