NW Ind. union workers protest

March 10, 2011 3:52:02 PM PST
Budget protests took place at the state capitol in Indianapolis Thursday.

Thousands of workers attended what could be the largest rally ever there. Among them were northwest Indiana steelworkers.

The buses left the steelworkers union building in Gary by 7 a.m. and headed straight to the Indiana Statehouse for the protest.

The mass demonstration is a protest against what labor union members believe is an anti-worker agenda at the Indiana capitol. Labor unions say their wages and collective bargaining rights are under attack.

Republicans believe the changes they're seeking will help taxpayers by lowering the cost of public construction projects. Most Democrats have been at an Urbana, Illinois, hotel refusing to give Republicans the quorum that they need.

Legislators will not be in session Thursday or Friday. Regardless, 20,000 union members still planned to protest in Indianapolis Thursday, calling it the "We Are Indiana" rally. The rally was expected to be the largest rally at the Indiana Statehouse since 1995 when union members protested wages.

Sherry Schultz has put in 13 years at U.S. Steel in Indiana. On Thursday morning, she boarded a bus with hundreds of fellow union members prepared for a fight in Indianapolis at the statehouse. They're outraged over proposed legislation that they feel is anti-worker.

"It will cut our wages tremendously because we have no collective bargaining, and they're free to do whatever they want to do to us however they want to do it, so it definitely will cut our pockets and our wages," said Schultz. "Hopefully, just our presence being there will send a tremendous message to 'em."

Proposed education reforms have also angered teachers, so they've united with the laborers union. Educators also believe their collective bargaining rights will be limited by new legislation.

"Unions are the mouthpiece for men and women, whether they're for the middle class or for the poor. We are the ones that are the buffer. You eliminate us out of the equation, then there is no middle class," said Jerry Littles, president, Steel Workers Local 1014.

Indiana's house speaker says he is optimistic about the return of boycotting Democrats but he does not have any commitment that they're coming back Monday.

"The Indiana politicians in charge of the statehouse have proposed a long series of bad bills," said Robin Rich, steelworkers union. "These bills basically go after the right of workers to have a voice on their job and to collectively bargain around their working conditions and their wages, and the bills, the so-called Right to Work Bill, which would weaken labor unions and drive down our wages about $5,000 per Hoosier worker. This is going to affect all Hoosier workers, all people in Indiana and would take away collective bargaining rights of teachers to talk about their class sizes, safety issues in the classroom and other basic rights on the job, and project labor agreements to drive down wages of construction workers."

Rich said many unionized workers from different unions were on the 11 buses from Gary.

"We have hospital workers, teachers, construction workers, steelworkers, people from all walks of life, who all are united to say enough is enough," Rich said. "The only thing that we have to stand between us and corporate power is a voice at our jobs and unions set the standards for all people in Indiana."

Rich said that although the legislators are not in session today, the protesters want to send a message that they are drawing a line.

"We're going to stick together. They can't divide us. There are so many different kinds of people here that have joined together to say no. We believe you're trying to get rid of the middle class in this country," Rich said.