It takes a hot topic to fill every seat in an auditorium for a town hall meeting. But Saturday afternoon, every seat was taken at the Public Safety Academy to discuss Right to Work legislation. And what started as an impromptu town hall meeting, turned into a union rally against Right to Work.
Democratic Representative Win Moses hosted the meeting. Moses said his goal was to take workers' opinions back to Indianapolis so politicians would be forced to listen to their constituents before voting along party lines.
Republicans are generally in favor of Right to Work legislation saying it boosts a state’s economic growth and increases personal income. Democrats, including Representative Moses, are generally against the legislation saying its long-term goal is to reduce wages across a state.
Representative Moses opened the meeting to public opinion by passing a microphone around the auditorium. Christine Fisher was the first to take a stand. Fisher has been unemployed for a few years and believes this legislation will only exploit honest workers.
"In these economic times when everyone is struggling, we don't need to reduce our wages in a state that's doing rather well,” said Fisher. “To make Indiana 'Right to Work' is almost criminal."
Democrats claim that wages are 3.2 percent less in Right to Work states than in states that refuse Right to Work legislation. Representative Moses said that if passed this legislation will cut two to five thousand dollars from every Hoosier household over time.
Bob Rynes is a business agent for the United Food and Commercials Union. Rynes represents all Kroger and Scotts workers in Fort Wayne and says that unions protect workers by having power in numbers. He believes that if this legislation passes, unions will lose their power and eventually his children will suffer.
"Over time wages get lower, benefits decrease, health insurance and pensions disappear," said Rynes. "And it will affect my family. My children are going to grow up and have lower paying jobs because they don't have the unions there to fight for them and make them better paying jobs."
Representative Moses explained that, under Right to Work, if a worker decides to work for a unionized company but not pay the union dues, he or she will still be able to claim union benefits. All union workers at Friday’s meeting said that is not fair.
“If I wanted to join a country club, would I be able to do that without paying their dues?” Elvin Kimmel, a trades worker, asked. “Everyone’s got the choice if they want to work for a dues-paying outfit. If I wanted to go and join the Chamber of Commerce, would I still have to pay dues to join? If it’s good for us, why isn’t it good for them?”
Some Indiana lawmakers claim that Indiana is 'number one' in the Midwest for job creation. Other Indiana lawmakers claim that the state is failing to bring in enough new jobs to boost the economy.
"It frightens me to think that after going to war for this country, to be treated like this by our elected officials... I just don't understand," said Kimmel.
The battle will continue on Monday at the Statehouse, and local union workers are sending a strong message of worry and distrust back to Indianapolis with Representative Moses.
"I think they're trying to bring this here to lower our wages," said Rynes. "They will just make corporations richer and the rest of us poorer."
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