Tensions Rise As Indiana Legislators Plan to Put Collective Bargaining to a Vote (UPDATED)

While public employee unions fight for their existence in Wisconsin, teachers and union members in Indiana are worried that their collective bargaining rights could soon be scrapped as well. Next week, the state legislature in Indianapolis plans legislative hearings similar to those in Wisconsin, Florida, and Ohio, where Republican majorities have moved swiftly to kneecap union organizing and bargaining rights. In Indiana, both houses are controlled by the GOP, and Hoosiers are afraid that anti-union bills could pass quickly.

One of the bills at issue in Indiana is a “Right To Work” proposal that would undermine union funding by eliminating mandatory union dues for all workers—even though non due-paying workers are, by default, still dependent on unions for salaries and benefits. (When a union bargains for better hours, all workers benefit, regardless of their member status.)

Another bill union supporters are worried about is the Teacher’s Collective Bargaining Bill, or HB 575. If passed, HB 575 would prohibit teachers from bargaining over anything except salaries and a few basic benefits. Even then, bargaining could last just sixty days before going to arbitration, which would be completely conducted by the school board—and the board-chosen arbitrator will have the last word.

HB 575 would also allow contracts to be terminated with no room for discussion. Contracts would only last two years, in sync with the state budget, and would allow teachers to be suspended without pay with as little as a month’s notice.

If a teacher does have a complaint about an unfair practice, and the state finds the complaint frivolous, the new bill would allow government officials to levy a $1,000 fine.

But for many teachers, the labor implications are only half of the issue. Important issues that impact students, like remediation programs, classroom size, and textbooks are part of the collective bargaining process. “They’re trying to control what’s in the classroom,” says Randy Studt, a teacher at Lafayette High. HB 575 disregards teachers’ professional expertise and tranfers decision-making power to administrators and politicians far removed from the day-to-day learning process, Rick Muir, the president of the Indiana Federation of Teachers, tells Mother Jones.

Mass mobilization is key to countering HB 575 and other anti-union bills, Muir warns. “We will be watching who voted for these harmful bills and we will mobilize, like never before, to get these people out in the next elections,” he says. “We will know how each legislator votes.”

Indiana state legislators plan to hold a hearing on the “Right to Work” bill on Monday morning. Though many Indiana teachers will struggle to attend protests every day next week—school is still in session, after all—members from other labor unions will be rallying in Indianapolis at nine o’clock Monday morning at the State House. But whether political threats and teacher protests are enough to stop the GOP’s legislative push remains to be seen.

UPDATE: Teachers and union members packed the Indiana State House in a rally of opposition to Indiana’s “Right to Work” bill Monday. Police said the crowd count was just under 5,000. Despite the numbers—which didn’t attract much of a counter-protest—the Republican-led House Labor Committee passed the bill to the House floor by an 8 to 5 vote. Indiana Federation of Teachers’ President Rick Muir said there is a bigger push for teachers to come out Tuesday, as the Collective Bargaining bill will see a third reading in the Senate tomorrow. Indiana papers are reporting that Governor Mitch Daniels is urging Republicans to hold off on this legislation as well as the rest of the labor-related bills. But Peg McLeish, spokesperson for the House Democrats, says bills will likely be sped through in an attempt to meet legislative deadlines.


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