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Indiana Legislators Debate On Priority Of Right To Work

AFL-CIO union workers

Photo: AFL-CIO (Flickr)

AFL-CIO demonstrators protest in 2009. Right-to-work legislation could constrain union bargaining rights.

A panel discussion between legislative leaders Thursday was at times pointed and even heated as they previewed the upcoming session.

A bulk of the discussion centered on the right-to-work issue, which last session led to a five-week walkout by House Democrats. The panel – made up of Senate President Pro Tem David Long, House Speaker Brian Bosma, Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson and House Minority Leader Pat Bauer – frequently interrupted each other as they went back and forth on the topic.

Republican leaders have said right to work will be their top priority in the next session. House Minority Leader Pat Bauer says he hopes it will not be the only issue the legislature focuses on.

“And to just throw this bomb in the middle of a session which was meant to be for emergency measures is really perplexing,” he says. “And why wasn’t it an issue in the last campaign? Are you trying to duck the electorate?”

Bauer says Republicans should wait until the 2012 elections and make it a major campaign issue. But Speaker Brian Bosma says Hoosiers are ready to deal with the issue now and cannot wait any longer.

“And I know people say it’s partisan and they’re going to say it’s about unions, but it’s not,” he says. “It’s about worker freedom, and it’s about job creation in this state.”

Bosma says he knows right to work will not be a silver bullet in solving the state’s unemployment problems, but called it the “last substantial barrier” to employers locating in Indiana.

Even when the moderator of the discussion urged the panelists to move on to other topics, the legislators talked their way back to right to work. Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson says she thinks that is a preview of things to come when the session begins in January.

“They’re defending their position, we are defending our position,” she says. “We never talk about anything else, and there’s so many other issues to talk about.”

Simpson says job growth and encouraging economic investment are among the agenda items Senate Democrats want to address. Senate President Pro Tem David Long says the focus on right to work is partly because it is the most interesting topic. But he says it will address the issues of job creation and economic development.

“Like it or not, these good jobs are not coming to Indiana because we’re not a right-to-work state,” he says. “It’s that simple.”

Long says the legislature will address a number of other topics in the upcoming session, likely including a statewide smoking ban.

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