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Right-to-work legislation likely to dominate session

Craig Wood Merrillville Ind. display sign outside House Chamber during OrganizatiDay Statehouse Tuesday Nov. 22 2011 Indianapolis. Protesters filled hallways

Craig Wood of Merrillville, Ind. display a sign outside of the House Chamber during Organization Day at the Statehouse Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011, in Indianapolis. Protesters filled the hallways outside the House and Senate chambers Tuesday ahead of the General Assembly's largely ceremonial Organization Day sessions in the afternoon. Some carried signs calling "right to work" a lie. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

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What to expect

Land-based casino

Gary will renew its push for a land-based casino. The legislation will propose returning one of the city’s two gambling licenses to the Indiana Gaming Commission. State Sen. Earline Rogers and state Rep. Charlie Brown, both Gary Democrats, hope the strategy will curb potential criticism that the land-based casino is an expansion of gaming. Proponents of the bill expect new leadership in Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson will be an asset.

Little Calumet levee

State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, will file a bill outlining a funding strategy for the Little Calumet River levee. The fee structure would fund the completion and maintenance of the levee system. Proposed fees backed by an independent study ran from $45 for residential parcels up to $360 for industrial parcels a year. Property owners within the Lake County portion of the watershed would pay.

Statewide smoking ban

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels set a statewide smoking ban as a legislative priority. State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, who has tried to pass a ban five times at the General Assembly, is planning to file a bill banning smoking with the exemption of casinos and cigar bars. Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma told the Associated Press the ban could pass by the Feb. 5 Super Bowl.

Public transit funding

The Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority is working with state Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, on a bill that would give the transit agency a share of local gaming tax revenue. The RBA must find a dedicated local funding source by June or buses will stop running.

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Updated: February 2, 2012 8:17AM



Debate on whether Indiana will become the 23rd right-to-work state will likely dominate the Indiana General Assembly session that starts Wednesday.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce have backed the passage of so-called right-to-work legislation. The issue compelled House Democrats to walk out for five weeks last session, and Northwest Indiana unions are once again promising a strong presence at the State House.

In right-to-work states, unions are prohibited from requiring non-members to pay dues or fees that fund the cost of representation.

Supporters of the legislation say it will lead to job creation and widen economic development opportunities for the state.

Opponents argue right to work is an emotionally charged issue that will lower wages for union and non-union employees alike and hurt bargaining power.

“Under a right-to-work law, people could withdraw from the union and wouldn’t have to pay anything. But we are still obligated by federal law to represent them like we would represent a member,” District 7 United Steelworkers Director Jim Robinson said. “That’s why I call it right to freeload.”

Daniels argues that Indiana not being a right-to-work state has led to “hundreds” of lost opportunities.

“When a business allows us to compete, we win two-thirds of the time. But between a quarter and a half of the time, we don’t make the first cut, due to this single handicap. Knowing how many jobs we could be capturing is what has persuaded me that we must enact this reform,” said Daniels in the statement he released in support of the legislation.

Northwestern Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council Business Manager Randy Palmateer points to the statistic that Nevada, a right-to-work state, has the highest unemployment rate at 13 percent.

As for economic development, Modern Forge building a facility in Merrillville is an example of how Indiana is already business friendly, Palmateer said.

“We have all these projects, and we’re not a right-to-work state,” Palmateer said. “There’s nothing that shows it will create one single job. It just erodes workers’ rights and workers’ pay.”

Smith: Walkout unlikely

State Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said constituents call him all the time confused on the meaning of right to work.

They tell him, “I need a job. I have the right to work, too.”

“Most people don’t even understand the issue,” Smith said. “There is going to be a debate and other strategies probably used but as far as being able to stop anything — it’s a train coming down the track.”

Smith called the probability of another walkout unlikely.

“Am I willing to? Yes. Will we do it? I don’t think so,” Smith said.

Greater Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce President Rex Richards feels on both sides of the issue, some points haven’t been accurately reflected. The chamber is exploring right to work but hasn’t taken a formal position.

“Under the legislation that was proposed last year and in … states that have right to work it does not in any way write into law the elimination of unions,” Richards said. “Unions can function.”

Opponents of the legislation want state leaders to name the companies that haven’t come to Indiana because of its lack of right-to-work law, but Richards said such disclosure is unlikely.

“The reason why people advocating in favor of right to work cannot mention who the companies are that have looked and decided not to come to a different location in many instances you have to sign non-disclosure agreements,” Richards said.

Right to work is an additional incentive to give to companies exploring locating in the state, Richards said.

“The only way unions can increase their membership is if they can have companies to organize. So if Indiana has more companies locating to the state of Indiana doesn’t it make logical sense the unions could have more opportunities for increasing their membership,” Richards said.

Unions and society

Across the country talk has turned to unions and their place in society, said John Russo, co-director of Youngstown State University’s Center for Working Class Studies.

“Show me a state that doesn’t have unions or unions are declining, the standard of living for working people decreases,” Russo said. “It’s complicated. The question is - are you better off with or without unions? I would say you are better off to have unions because they play such a key role in developing the middle class and Democratic society.”

For Russo, the debate focuses on a central point.

“In my mind it really comes down to do we continue to have a middle class,” Russo said. “The fight will be around that.”



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