Steve Lee, a former union truck driver and dock worker from Plymouth, said he felt it was important to stand up for organized labor, even though he’s retired.
“It’s what brought this country together,” he said, “to get a fair wage and fair benefits for everybody.”
There were few lawmakers on hand to witness the rally, however, as the House of Representatives adjourned for the week Wednesday, and the Senate finished its work for the week Thursday morning.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, issued a statement saying he supports the rights of all Hoosiers to speak their minds at the Statehouse, but he continues to be amazed by how the GOP’s education and labor proposals are being misrepresented.
“No reasonably informed person can honestly state that our desire to transform public education is an effort to destroy it,” Bosma said. “In fact, our hope is just the opposite -- to make outstanding education options, whether public or private, available to every Hoosier family regardless of their income or ZIP code.
“Likewise, no reasonably informed observer can honestly state that our proposals are designed to eliminate the middle class or drive workers to the minimum wage for life,” he continued. “Our goal is just the opposite -- to create high-skill, high-wage jobs for every Hoosier worker, whether those jobs are union supported or non-union supported jobs.”
Senate Democrats and two House Democrats -- Reps. Bill Crawford of Indianapolis and David Niezgodski of South Bend -- attended the event. Most of the other 40 House Democrats remained at an Urbana, Ill., hotel that has been their base since walking out of the Statehouse nearly three weeks ago to stop Republicans from moving their agenda.
Niezgodski, the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Employment, Labor and Pensions, said the rally Thursday was the beginning of a very firm statement against the many labor restrictions under consideration this year in the General Assembly.
“People are saying, ‘This is our house, and you have to listen to what we have to say,’ ” Niezgodski said.
Republicans agreed weeks ago to kill a so-called “right to work” bill, which would have prohibited companies and unions from agreeing to require all of a shop’s workers to pay fees for collective bargaining.
But unions and Democrats still oppose other measures that remain on the table.
One of those that protesters focused on Thursday is House Bill 1216, which would exempt most public building projects from being subject to common construction wage rules, and prevent companies from having to sign project labor agreements that guarantee a certain percentage of union jobs. Proponents say they are simply trying to save taxpayers money on those projects, but opponents say the bill would drive down wages and attract non-union companies from outside Indiana to undercut local bidders.
The Indiana State AFL-CIO announced Wednesday that it expected to draw more than 25,000 people to the rally. The Indiana State Police estimated the crowd Thursday at about 8,000, but the AFL-CIO disputed that number and reported its own estimate at about 20,000.
Staff writer Kevin Allen: