CNHI Statehouse Bureau
A conservative Republican lawmaker will push to exempt 15 building trade unions from a controversial labor bill that would put an end to mandatory union dues.
Republican state Sen. Brent Waltz of Greenwood said he has the support of both the building trade unions and contractors who employ their members to carve them out of the right-to-work legislation making its way through the Indiana legislature.
The legislation would prohibit employers from entering into labor contracts that require all workers to pay union dues. The bill has faced strong opposition from Democrats and labor leaders.
Waltz’s amendment would cover 15 building trade unions, including bricklayers, carpenters, electricians, ironworkers, plumbers and Teamsters.
The building trades combined have about 75,000 members in Indiana.
Waltz said leaders of the building trades unions “asked for the exemption‚” and he discounted rumors that some unions that would be covered by exemption don’t support it. “I don’t believe there is any daylight between them,” he said.
Waltz said he was assured by a member of the Indiana State Building & Construction Trades Council that there was “unanimous” support for the amendment.
Council president Pete Rimsans didn’t return calls from the CNHI Statehouse Bureau.
Ray Kismark, head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Indiana and member of the council’s executive board, disagreed with Waltz’s assessment. Kismark said his union strongly opposes the right-to-work bill and won’t support any exemptions.
“We are fundamentally opposed to carving out any exemptions,” Kismark said. Kismark said the exemption amendment is a divisive tactic, meant to put unions against each other.
House Democrats stalled action on the right-to-work bill by staying away from the House floor last week, robbing House Republicans of the quorum needed to do business. The House Democrats returned Monday, but left open the possibility they may leave again soon.
State Sen. Carlin Yoder of Middlebury, who is carrying the Senate bill said he opposes any exemptions. “The bill is intended to be about fairness,” Yoder said. “It can’t cover some workers and not others and still be fair.”
During a committee hearing on the bill Friday, an influential Republican lobbyist, Indianapolis lawyer Joe Loftus, testified in favor of the building-trades exemption. Loftus represents the Indiana Building Contractors Alliance, a coalition of construction contractors who employ the building trade union members.
Loftus said the building trades should be carved out because contractors rely on the unions to train workers in the skilled trades and to select competent workers for construction projects. Loftus works for Barnes & Thornburg, an Indianapolis-based law firm with close ties to Gov. Mitch Daniels’ administration.
Waltz said many construction contractors support his exemption and don’t want their union workers covered by the right-to-work bill.
Waltz said the right-to-work legislation is needed for unions in the manufacturing industries, though. He said manufacturers can choose to locate in places with a cheaper workforce.
“That’s a different situation than in the building trades,” Waltz said. “You can not build Lucas Oil Stadium in Mexico or Kentucky and move it to Indiana.”
Daniels has said the right-to-work bill is one of his top legislative priorities, and one he wants passed quickly.
He’s expected to talk about the bill tonight, during his State of the State speech delivered to the Indiana General Assembly.
The Associated Press quoted Bosma on Monday night as not discounting the idea of carving the Indiana State Building and Construction Trades from the measure, noting that he pushed for that exemption last year.
“I’m a little leery about that approach, but I know there are some people interested in that,” Bosma told the AP, adding that he would oppose efforts to put the measure on the ballot for voters in 2013.
Maureen Hayden is the Indiana Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI, the parent company of the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Video by Andy Knight