INDIANAPOLIS | Hundreds of Northwest Indiana union workers will be at the Statehouse on Tuesday hoping to speak with state lawmakers as they convene for the ceremonial first day of the legislative session, known as Organization Day.
The topic, should lawmakers stop and listen, will be opposition to a right-to-work proposal that unions say will harm Indiana by cutting wages and reducing benefits for all workers — union and nonunion.
United Steelworkers is sending at least nine buses to Indianapolis with members from northern Indiana. Hundreds more union workers from across the state also are expected Tuesday at the Statehouse to meet with state senators and representatives.
"We hope it will serve as a reminder to legislators that this issue isn't going away and that this is something working people feel very passionate about," said Jeff Harris, spokesman for the Indiana AFL-CIO.
A Republican-controlled legislative study committee voted on party lines last month to endorse an Indiana right-to-work law, which would allow nonunion members at a union workplace to not pay fair share fees for services the union is required to provide.
Many Republican lawmakers say the labor policy change will lure new businesses to the state, but unions say right-to-work is intended to weaken unions and, over time, minimize their voices in the political process.
For now though, the push for right-to-work by some Republicans and their allies at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce is attracting new people to the political process determined to stop right-to-work, said Jerome Davison, vice president of the Northwest Indiana Federation of Labor.
"They've brought more and more people who really want to get out there and have their voices heard," Davison said.
Jim Robinson, director of United Steelworkers District 7 based in Gary, said union members won't be rallying at the Statehouse on Tuesday, as they did for six weeks straight last session when right-to-work was being discussed, but instead will try to talk with lawmakers one-on-one.
"The purpose ... is to remind them at the beginning of the session that these are issues of importance to us," Robinson said.
Indiana lawmakers need only look to Ohio to see the effect of ignoring their constituents, Davison said. Ohio voters this month overwhelmingly voted to overturn a law enacted by that state's Republican Legislature and governor that restricted collective bargaining for public employees.
Indiana laws cannot be undone by referendum, but Davison notes that all 100 members of the Indiana House and 25 of 50 state senators will be up for election in 2012.
"If they want to push this forward in order to make their big businesses and chamber (of commerce) happy, they will suffer at the ballot box," Davison said.