Indiana Democrats end stand-off on union rights

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 28, 2011 6:13 PM
Indiana Democrats end stand-off on union rights

By Susan Guyett

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Indiana lawmakers ended a five-week standoff on Monday as Democrats wrung compromises in Republican-sponsored bills they see as part of a national push to strip U.S. public sector unions of bargaining rights.

Most of Indiana's 40 Democratic House representatives departed Indiana for Illinois last month to deny the 60 Republicans a quorum to pass any legislation, much as Wisconsin Senate Democrats created a weeks-long stalemate there by fleeing that state.

Ultimately, Wisconsin's Republicans maneuvered to pass its union bill without the Democrats present, though the outcome remains in doubt as opponents have sued to block the law.

But in Indiana, the missing House Democrats succeeded in paralyzing the legislature, forcing Republicans to compromise.

In several states, newly elected Republican governors and new or expanded Republican legislative majorities have introduced proposals to strip public sector unions of bargaining rights.

Republicans say changes are needed to reign in budget deficits while Democrats and their labor union backers say the proposals amount to union-busting. Democrats fear they will undermine one of the party's key bases of electoral support.

Indiana House Republican leader Brian Bosma said the changes to bills opposed by Democrats were not "substantive."

Democrats said they got rid of a proposal to permanently ban collective bargaining by public employees -- a policy that was imposed a few years ago by Republican Governor Mitch Daniels but not enshrined in state law.

Republicans also dropped a "right-to-work" proposal that would have barred a requirement that workers pay union dues as a condition of employment.

The compromises are "not perfect" but workable, said Indiana House Democratic Leader B. Patrick Bauer.

"The time out forced by Democrats gave (Indiana residents) an opportunity to examine the radical agenda being attempted in Indiana and to speak out," Bauer said in a statement.

In Ohio, a Republican-led state House committee was expected to vote on Tuesday on a bill that restricts workers' bargaining rights, a measure passed early this month by the state Senate that sparked protests at the Capitol in Columbus.

The Ohio proposal would get rid of binding arbitration favored by unions and ban strikes, among other measures backed by Republican Governor John Kasich.

Republican lawmakers are expected to remove from the bill the threat of incarceration for workers who violate the no-strike measure. However, they are likely to stiffen the law by doing away with automatic pay raises and instituting merit pay for government workers, and by ending the state's obligation to deduct union dues from paychecks.

Outnumbered Democrats said they may fight back against the bill by seeking a voter referendum on the issue.

(Additional reporting by Jo Ingles in Columbus and Mary Wisniewski in Chicago; Editing by Jerry Norton, Andrew Stern and Todd Eastham)