Lawmakers returning to the Statehouse tomorrow to prep for their 2012 legislative session will likely face hallways filled with union workers worried about legislation they say could dilute their power and hurt the state's economy.
House and Senate leaders are not expected to take up the so-called right-to-work bills when the GOP-controlled General Assembly gathers for its annual Organization Day on Tuesday. But they are expected to push the legislation — which would free workers from paying fees to unions they don't join — when the session begins in earnest in January.
So the Indiana AFL-CIO is asking its members and other supporters to show up at the Statehouse to talk to their representatives and senators about why they believe right-to-work is a bad idea.
"We're calling it an 'all workers lobby day,'" said Jeff Harris, a spokesman for the union. "There are no big rallies or anything like that planned. We just want people to come to the Statehouse and talk."
The legislature's Organization Day is typically a low-key affair made up of ceremonial speeches, rules votes and other procedural activities. Occasionally, though, lawmakers have used the day to take votes or introduce legislation deemed particularly important.
The latter won't be the case this year, said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.
"We're not going to do anything as far as a major introduction of bills, but we are going to be discussing a little bit of the agenda from the mic," Long said.
Right-to-work "might be discussed but there won't be legislation introduced that day" in the Senate, Long said.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, declined through a spokeswoman to be interviewed Friday.
But House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, said he received a letter from Bosma indicating no substantial action will be taken Tuesday. Bauer said that means his caucus has nothing specific planned either.
"We'll adjust if there are incoming bombs," Bauer said.
Right-to-work is expected to be one of the most dominant issues of the 2012 legislative session. The proposals are meant to keep workers from paying fees to unions they don't join – even if those unions represent them in salary and benefits negotiations and other areas.
Proponents — mostly business groups and Republicans — say the legislation would make Indiana more economically competitive and lead to job growth. Opponents — mostly Democrats and union leaders — say the legislation would lead to lower wages and fewer benefits for all Hoosiers.
During the 2011 session earlier this year, majority House Republicans moved a right-to-work bill out of committee. But Democrats boycotted the session — even fleeing to Illinois — for more than one month in an attempt to block its passage.
Eventually, the GOP gave up on the bill and sent the topic to a study committee for action. That group has recommended the General Assembly take up the issue in January.
Bauer has promised to "respond appropriately" if Republicans do so. But this week, he wouldn't say just what that action might be.
"I certainly do think the minority has the right to defend the people and the process from a majority that becomes tyrannical," Bauer said. "We have to choose those means that will be most effective. But right now, I couldn't say what that is without talking to people and discussing it further."
Bauer suggested that an Occupy Wall Street-type protest — which has led thousands of people to camp out in parks and other public locations across the nation, though few in Indianapolis — might be one option. So would forums and rallies across the state. Regardless, Bauer said, the public needs to be involved in some more expansive way if Democrats are to be successful stopping the legislation.
Republicans have a 60-40 majority in the Indiana House and a 37-13 majority in the Senate. The Senate margin is so wide that Republicans can produce a quorum for business even if Democrats don't show up at all.
And even if Democrats in the House wanted to boycott business again, they face substantial obstacles. Most notably, the GOP earlier this year pushed through a new law that could lead to $1,000-per-day fines for lawmakers that try to deny the quorum necessary to conduct business.
Meanwhile, union leaders are "preparing for any and all eventualities," Harris said. "We don't know how things will play out but we are going to do what we did last year: Encourage our members to come to the Statehouse and talk to their legislators one on one. That seems to be the most effective strategy."
Lesley Stedman Weidenbener is editor at the Franklin College Statehouse News Bureau