After Union Protests, Next Steps in Wisconsin
By Melissa Maynard, Staff Writer
PARTY IN ILLINOIS? Indiana is the new Wisconsin . Or, at least, House Democrats in Indiana are taking a cue from Wisconsin Senate Democrats and fleeing their state to avoid voting on a controversial bill about union rights, the Indianapolis Star reports . State workers in Indiana lost their right to bargain collectively in 2005; the legislation in question, a so-called "right to work" bill, would prevent private-sector unions from requiring non-union members to pay "kick-in fees" for representation. Union leaders argue that such fees are only fair because all represented employees benefit from the negotiations they undertake. Only three (out of 40) Democrats were present on Tuesday morning when the House came into session. A total of 58 legislators showed up, but 67 are necessary for a quorum that is authorized to carry out the state's affairs. The Indiana State Police have not yet been dispatched to search for the missing House Democrats. Governor Mitch Daniels has asked Republicans to drop the bill, and previously warned against taking up the legislation because of its potential to derail more pressing priorities.
NEXT STEPS IN MADISON: While the Democratic members of Wisconsin 's state Senate remain AWOL to stall a vote on Governor Scott Walker's controversial budget bill, their counterparts in the state Assembly are taking a different tack. They showed up when the Assembly convened Tuesday to discuss the bill, but are planning to introduce more than 100 amendments, the Wisconsin State Journal reports . Senate Republicans need their Democratic colleagues to be present only for spending bills — according to rules stipulated in the state's constitution — and plan to convene this week to act on a range of non-fiscal measures. Some of the business that Republicans plan to take up is purposely controversial and designed to lure Democrats back to the Capitol. While most bills aren't ready for a final vote, Republicans plan to take up another controversial bill requiring voters to show photo identification when they register to vote, as well as scheduling public hearings on other contentious bills that Democratic legislators wouldn't want to miss the opportunity to debate.
DOCTOR'S NOTES: In Wisconsin , the presence of so many protesters spending so much time outside the Capitol during work hours is raising an interesting side debate over medical ethics. The Associated Press reports that doctors from numerous hospitals set up stations near the Capitol to provide sick notes explaining absences from work. One doctor told the AP that he had given out hundreds of notes to protesters, many of whom seemed to be suffering from stress. The University of Wisconsin medical school is investigating these reports.
ACROSS THE LAKE: Smaller protests over labor rights have erupted in Lansing, but the tenor will be different than in Wisconsin if Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has his way. According to the Detroit Free Press , Snyder told reporters that bills aimed at challenging unions are distracting from debates over the state budget and taxes. "We're two very different states," he said. "It's about how we do collective bargaining to achieve a mutual outcome where we can all benefit and win together … I believe that's the atmosphere we have in this state, and that's the approach I'm taking."
RALLYING FOR RAISES: West Virginia 's public sector workforce lacks the collective bargaining rights that state workers in Ohio and Wisconsin are fighting to protect and has a low public sector unionization rate . Still, West Virginia's public sector unions held a rally in the Capitol rotunda on Monday — both in the hopes of securing pay raises and to express solidarity with protesters in Wisconsin, West Virginia Public Broadcasting reports . A freeze on merit pay raises has been in place since 2005, and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has proposed bonuses for state workers. Key legislators have not ruled out converting the bonuses into permanent wage increases, which workers believe are long overdue. "If [Wisconsin workers] lose their collective bargaining rights, they can look to West Virginia for what's going to happen to them…," said Ernie Chafin, the president of the West Virginia Public Workers' Union Local 170. "I would like to see a delegation sent from Wisconsin to West Virginia to be used as a case study just to see what can happen.