I’m in the plane en route to Madison, Wisconsin (thank you, Gogo In-Flight Internet!), but perhaps I should just rent a car and travel across the Midwest. Because labor fights are occurring across the region.
First, you have Indiana, where Democrats walked out to protest a bill that would have made Indiana a right-to-work state, basically busting all private unions. Democrats in the state House denied Republicans a quorum to pass their legislation. Mitch Daniels, the Indiana Governor and Presidential hopeful, immediately rejected moving the anti-union bill at this time, and sure enough, Republicans dropped the bill. But that has not yet brought the Indiana Dems back to the Capitol.
Thanks to the rules of the Indiana Legislature, Democrats say they can kill a slew of other bills they don’t like just by staying away. And it sounds like they intend to do just that.
Indiana’s legislative rules give a fixed timeline for bills to be read on the floor and voted on. The current session comes to an end on April 29, when the legislators will go home unless Daniels calls a special session of the state legislature.
Sixty-seven of the Indiana House’s 100 members must be in the legislature for votes to proceed. The Republicans have a huge 60-40 majority, but that’s not enough to force a quorum without the Democrats. So, AWOL House Democrats could effectively kill legislation just by hanging out in Urbana, IL, where they’re currently holed up.
This is a pretty aggressive move for Democrats, in particular Indiana Democrats, but they’re going for it. The right-to-work bill was not the only anti-union measure Indiana Republicans sought; a list of all of those bills is here. But Democrats also want a bill allowing state-funded private school vouchers and one letting the state give private companies the ability to turn around failing schools off the table as well. Even the budget bill is a non-starter for Democrats. It’s unclear how this will play out, as so far Republicans aren’t giving in to the full list of demands.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, labor groups and activists protested yesterday against SB 5, a bill that mirrors the Wisconsin effort to strip collective bargaining rights. Former Governor Ted Strickland addressed the throng yesterday, which measured in the thousands. For a time, they were barred access to the Capitol. Much like in Wisconsin, the new right-wing governor in Ohio, John Kasich, has used a budget crisis to justify this stripping of worker rights, all the while pushing tax cuts that increase the budget deficit:
Kasich is indeed facing an $8 billion budget hole, but its unclear what stripping workers of their collective bargaining rights would do to fix that situation. As Policy Matters Ohio found, states that deny public workers the right to collectively bargain are in no better fiscal shape (and, in many cases, are worse off) than states that do allow workers to bargain collectively. “Ohio’s budget problem is a revenue crisis, caused by a weak economy and ill-advised tax reductions that have deprived the state of needed revenue. Eliminating collective bargaining is not going to solve a revenue crisis,” explained Policy Matters Ohio Executive Director Amy Hanauer.
Plus, Kasich, shortly after bemoaning his state’s budget situation, insisted that he will implement a slew of budget-busting tax cuts that he’s proposed. These cuts will double the state’s deficit — by eliminating the state’s estate tax and income tax — while likely not leading to any noticeable job growth. Kasich has even proposed privatizing some of the state’s assets in order to finance new tax cuts for corporations and the rich, as Kevin Donohoe pointed out.
It’s really the Shock Doctrine at its finest: create budget crises through tax cuts, starve the government as a result, and break the only interest groups who reject that approach and stand for workers.
A good primer on the larger stakes in these labor fights can be found here.