The last episode of IN Focus aired August 2013; the page below is an archive.
The WFIU/WTIU news team continues its coverage of local and regional issues
in a new weekly program, Indiana Newsdesk.
April 28, 2011
The State Legislature
WTIU InFocus State Legislature: Examination of Labor Issues
Our panel of experts discusses the issues with the Right-to-Work bill and how labor unions affect our society.Watch Video »View Article
Labor issues have created a stir among union workers in Bloomington, Indiana. Dan Goldblatt explains what Project Labor Agreements are and how they affect our community. He states, PLAs are “No bid contracts on public tax payer funded projects where the private contractors agree to meet certain deadlines, avoid labor shortages, ensure projects such as a road, bridge or sewer line is completed as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
Some companies are opposed to union only Project Labor Agreements. Kevin Brinegar, the President of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, is not opposed to PLAs. He says, “What were opposed to is what we’ve seen in recent years and various public construction projects in Indiana, which is union only PLAs.” Union only PLAs have allowed union workers who do not live in Indiana to work on construction projects in Indiana.
Brinegar believes that the Right-to-Work bill will help the economy by increasing job and income growth, and lowering unemployment. He claims, “Some opposition for Right-to-Work comes from the union bosses, who collect more dues from people who don’t want to be paying them under the current collective bargaining agreements.”
State Representative, Matt Pierce, sees the Right-to-Work bill as an attack on labor groups. According to Pierce, “Well there’s actually a whole slate of proposals from the republicans on the table that would impact workers across the board, whether they’re public employee workers, teachers, or people working in the private sectors.” People who are in opposition to the bill believe that it act as a step backwards for Indiana by hurting our community’s wages, benefits, and working conditions.
Dr. Brian Vargus, Professor of Political Science, trusts that “One way of viewing this is it’s basically an attack on that connection between labor unions and the democratic party, and its happening not just in Indiana, but its happening in Wisconsin and Ohio and Michigan, so I think for their constituents, the people that support them, the democrats leaving the state was what they literally had to do because these laws were going to be ran through.”
The goal behind the Right-to-Work bill is that it tries to erode power that unions hold in the workplace. Vargus states that the Right-to-Work bill that was dropped “would make it a misdemeanor crime for an employer to collect union dues from every employee within a bargaining unit.” He claims Indiana does not have closed shops in which you have to join a union. You’re place of employment can get representation from a union therefore you will have to pay dues, but you do not have to belong to a union.
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WTIU InFocus State Legislature: Education Reform Concerns
A discussion about what Senate Bill 575 means for collective bargaining, teachers unions and public education.Watch Video »View Article
WTIU’s Ben Skirvin has talked to many officials both political and educational about how they’re coping with the latest legislative session. Many used sick and personal days to head to the Statehouse in protest of Senate Bill 575, which significantly limits teachers unions and their ability to negotiate.
Released by a group of Republican Senators, the bill lists at least five topics that will not be allowed to be negotiated such as the length of school day and evaluation and dismissal procedures. Tony Bennett, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction says that the limitations are all part of a broader initiative. He states, “We developed an entire comprehensive legislative agenda, understanding that in order for schools to be competitive, in order for schools to be able to be held accountable, we had to provide local school corporations flexibility.”
Indiana State Teachers Association President Nate Schnellenburger says Bennett is wrong. “Collective bargaining and unions in this country have been the backbone of our country for a long, long time.” He goes on to say, “There are certain politicians who have a vendetta against unions and they feel like the quickest way to weaken unions is to eliminate or weaken collective bargaining.”
Bennett’s office and ISTA have been at odds with each other over teacher’s emails.
Bennett states that there are ways that teachers can benefit off of students, “This is a structure of collective bargaining where collective bargaining has not been changed since the original law was adopted and passed in 1973.”
Tension could stem from the fact that only Republicans have been proposing these education reform acts. This could also possibly lead to a partisan divide especially the debate over charter schools. Bennett says, “This is really about proliferating high quality options.” Democrats disagree stating that many parts of the legislation in place to benefit charter schools have a direct negative impact on public schools.
State Senator Vi Simpson, Senate Minority Leader, says that the exchange of funds amounts to quite a sum. “The other factor are all the other bills that are going through this legislative session because just the voucher bill alone, which allows parents to take money away from the public schools and transfer it to private schools, there’s a fiscal note on that of 90 million dollars.”
Overall, charter schools have not been up to par in performance with public schools in academics, state standardized testing and graduation rates. Terry Spradlin from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy shares what the limits to negotiation are and how the teachers must be experiencing. “It will be restricted to just salary and salary related benefits and so, teachers really do feel like they’re under attack, probably public education feels, educators feel like they’re under attack because of the session.”
There is very little extra money coming in from the new budget. Spradlin says that it’s only a half a percent in the first fiscal year of 2012, but the session has resulted in some surprising and welcomed revelations. “Probably the best news all session long that educators received was last week when legislative leaders and the governor announced an additional 150 million dollars for public education.”
Joseph Varga explains that Republicans might be giving it all they have in this session. “I think that the Republican majorities are really taking their shot here, and saying ‘If we want to do anything lasting and we want to keep a lasting majority, we need to break that connection between particularly teachers unions and the Democratic Party.’” Brian Vargus adds, “There is the possibility of political blowback because it goes far beyond just education and labor.”
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WTIU InFocus State Legislature: Budget Projection Stresses
Our panel of experts discusses what taxpayers can expect when the Indiana State Budget passes.Watch Video »View Article
Budget is the biggest concern before the session is over, expected to increase, but over past years, have learned to wait until the money is secure before spending it. WTIU’s Alex Roy reports how Democrats are aware that social programs along with school funding might still be impacted. Indiana’s 14.1 billion dollar general fund budget is the center of debate. The projections in past years has been lackluster and below the actual revenue received. Therefore, officials say that they are not predicting the budget to be followed as proposed.
School funding is the largest in the budget taking fifty-two cents for every dollar generated. Republicans believe that it is necessary for appropriations and cuts to be present in the budget due to a lack of funds. State Representative Jeff Espich, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, says that he voted previously on spending more money on every part of the budget but only because it was available. “Today, Hoosier families are hurting and the state is hurting and we’ve got to tighten our bill. It’s not because we want to. It’s just because the alternative is much worse.”
State Senator Vi Simpson, Senate Minority Leader explains that due to schools being completely taken off of the property tax rolls in previous legislative sessions, education is solely reliant on the variable budget increases or unfavorable decreases. Simpson elaborates, “By putting the caps, the property tax caps in the Constitution, we’re never able to go back to that as a kind of safety net.”
Simpson’s leading legislative opponent, State Senator David Long, Senate Majority Leader, says that schools were using property tax money to fund unreasonable and unnecessary projects which in turn is bad news for taxpayers. Long states, “Indiana’s been very famous about building Taj Mahal’s in the past, per capita, maybe the most expensive school construction in the country at one time and the very recent past.” The new budget includes a formula to dictate how much funding a particular school will receive. While Vi Simpson says that most of education reform that has passed is merely just taking money away from public schools, Long states that there have been essential cuts made to provide the state with all its budgetary allotments.
Terry Spradlin weighs in claiming, “Perhaps they could have done a bit more there, maybe they’re being a little too conservative. Really, it’s a new day in school funding and public education.” He also says, “It’s going to be probably two to four more years before times get a lot better for public education. Times may continue to get worse before they get better.” Brian Vargus admits that education is important because it given over half of the budget, but he is more concerned about the other programs counting on funds. “You can see what the money’s going for, but you also have to realize that they’re operating within a very strict limitation.” Joseph Varga caps the discussion by saying, “Budgets are about choices, but they’re about priorities. They’re really about the type of society that we want to live in.”
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