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Indiana: The next front in the labor war

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 1/4/2012, 6:35 p.m.

Despite the apparent success of the union movement in beating back anti-union legislation and executive actions in Wisconsin and Ohio, the Republican governor and Legislature of Indiana are now trying to attack unions in their state.

They are trying to turn Indiana into a so-called "right to work," anti-union state. These are quite common in the South but have so far been unheard of in the industrial Midwest, Northeast or out West.

Reports have indicated that Indiana Gov.-and failed Republican presidential candidate-Mitch Daniels is pushing for legislation that would require unions to bear the costs of representing workers who refuse to join the union and receive the benefits of collective bargaining. Such workers are called "agency fee payers"; they pay lower dues, their dues are used for more limited aspects of the union's activities and they do not vote in union elections.

Under federal labor law, unions are required to represent all workers when it comes to collective bargaining issues, whether they opt to join the union or not. But nonmembers are not necessarily protected by unions when it comes to labor management disputes.

The argument made by Daniels and his supporters, including the GOP-controlled Indiana General Assembly, boils down to a belief that individuals should not be forced to support unions. But pro-labor activists claim that these so-called "free riders" shouldn't be able to reap the benefits that unions have negotiated.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker tried to thrust a similar law upon public sector employees entitled the "Right to work law," which Daniels is also calling his legislation. The laws prohibit contracts that require that all of the workers who benefit from union representation pay for union representation.

In states without right-to-work laws, unions often sign contracts that require all of the workers in a bargaining unit to pay a representation fee to the union that represents them in collective bargaining.

Those against the bill, including public employees, have planned a protest in the Indiana statehouse this week. Daniels, fearing a repeat of the broad protests faced by Wisconsin's governor last year, announced last Friday a limit on the number of people who can be inside the statehouse at any time. Now only 3,000 people are allowed inside the building, including the 1,700 state employees who work there, which means that only a little over 1,000 people would be able to assemble there on any given day.

Labor supporters and Democrats have not only denounced the legislation but accused Daniels of attempting to silence opposition with his narrow limits on public assembly.