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Indiana Democrats flee to Illinois in protest of union legislation

Members of the Indiana House of Representatives temporarily relocate, a week after Wisconsin senators did the same, to block a vote on legislation they consider anti-union. Union protesters have also descended on Ohio.

February 23, 2011|By Abby Sewell and Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times
  • Seats are empty where the Democrats normally sit in the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. Democrats are protesting Republican-backed labor bills, and their absence prevents the House from having a quorum to conduct business.
Seats are empty where the Democrats normally sit in the Indiana Statehouse… (Associated Press )

The battle against unions in the Midwest escalated Wednesday as a second state, Indiana, effectively found itself trapped in a legislative stalemate.

Most of the Democratic members of the Indiana House of Representatives have temporarily moved to Illinois to avoid having to vote on legislation they consider to be anti-union, according to a statement released Wednesday morning. Illinois is also where all 14 of the Democratic senators from Wisconsin sought sanctuary when they fled from Madison last week to block legislation that would have ended collective bargaining rights for public employee unions.

"We have relocated to Urbana, Ill., for the immediate future," the Democrats said in a prepared statement that attacked Republicans. "By staying here, we will be giving the people of Indiana a chance to find out more about this radical agenda and speak out against it."

The situation in Indiana is part of the growing anti-union campaign that has also rocked Wisconsin, where demonstrations by public employees and their allies are in their second week. Thousands of union protesters have also descended on Ohio, which is considering anti-union legislation and cutbacks.

In all three states, Republican governors and legislatures are seeking to roll back rights that unions already enjoy. In Wisconsin, public employee rights to collective bargaining would be ended, while in Indiana, pending legislation would allow private workers to leave their unions and not have to pay mandatory union dues.

Unions have flooded state capitals to oppose the legislation. On Wednesday morning, the halls of the Capitol in Indianapolis were full of protesters. Some carried signs that proclaimed, "Stop corporate greed," and "End the war on the middle class."

Dressed in an Uncle Sam costume, Nick Young, 23, a third-generation steel worker, said he has been protesting since Sunday against legislation that would hinder the right to organize and collective bargaining. "'It's just something I want to hold on to and I'm going to fight like hell to keep it," he said.

Tom and Debbie Millender, members of the Ironworkers Local 395, said they brought their three children to the protests. "This is something that sticks with the them for the rest of their life. It is part of history," Tom Millender said.

During the brief morning session of the General Assembly, Speaker Brian Bosma ordered spectators cleared from the chamber after they started to sing, "We Shall Overcome."

Bosma said he has no intention of negotiating with the missing Democrats.

"We will not concede to a list of demands from those who have vacated this state," he said, drawing a standing ovation from Republicans and boos from watching activists.

Bosma announced on Tuesday he would let the anti-union bill die. But Democrats were seeking assurances that it will not be resurrected this session.

"We will remain here until we get assurances from the governor and House Speaker Brian Bosma that these bills will not be called down in the House at any time this session," the missing democrats stated. "Our leader, State Rep. B. Patrick Bauer (D-South Bend), is ready to talk to the speaker anytime. All the speaker has to do is call."

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a potential presidential aspirant, has distanced himself from the anti-union battle, in sharp contrast to his neighbor, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has said he will stand firm to eliminate collective bargaining rights for his state's public employees. Walker is seeking to have employees pay more for health insurance and pensions in order to balance his budget.

Demonstrations continued in Madison on Wednesday.

Though a minority, the flight of the 14 Wisconsin Senate Democrats has deprived the body of a quorum so no action is possible. In Ohio, Republicans have enough members for a quorum so there would be no point to the Democrats leaving.

Like in Wisconsin, the Ohio bill, would roll back collective bargaining rights and change the rules on binding arbitration. It too would raise the cost of health insurance for employees and stop automatic pay increases for teachers.

Michael.muskal@latimes.com

Abby.sewell@latimes.com

Sewell reported from Indianapolis and Muskal from Los Angeles.

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