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Latest News - January 2012

January 15, 2012
Labor bill splits Chamber, union backers
Source: The Tribune-Star
By: Howard Greninger

TERRE HAUTE — Vigo County labor unions say a right-to-work bill currently before the Indiana General Assembly would harm working Hoosiers, while the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, which remained neutral last year when the issue arose, now actively supports the legislation.

That stance, said R. Todd Thacker, business manager for the IBEW Local 725, caused him to write a letter to the editor, published Tuesday in the Tribune-Star, to request a list of chamber members who support the right-to-work legislation.

“I was contacted by numerous chamber members saying they were not in favor of this. That decision was by a small group, the board of directors, that did this,” Thacker said.

Thacker said he wanted to know the stance of chamber members “because we support our friends and we support local businesses here.”

“It is our philosophy if the chamber wants to do something, and we take it as an attack on us, as we see right-to-work as an attack on organized labor to weaken us, then we definitely would inform our members and they can decide whether they want to do business [with a particular company/business] or not,” Thacker said.

Such action would not include informational picketing outside any business, Thacker said, “just inform our members who is voicing opposition to us.”

Rachel Leslie, executive vice president of the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, said the pro-business organization has a process through which issues are considered for support by the business organization.

“It is an in-depth process. The public policy committee meets and they take all the information into consideration and come up with a position to then present to the executive committee of the chamber,” Leslie said.

“If the executive committee approves the position, and in this case [of supporting right-to-work legislation], it was approved. It is then presented to the board of directors, which then votes on a particular position,” Leslie said.

“We understand there are different perspectives on different sides. Members join for that protection. We are their advocate and voice for business,” Leslie said. “That is why a lot of our members join the chamber. We would absolutely not pinpoint those individuals through this process.”

Leslie said the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce is taking an educational role for the right-to-work issue and will seek to educate its members on “what right-to-work is about.”

“We will hold an educational forum [on Jan. 20]. We want to educate our members so they have the tools that they need and education they need in regards to this particular issue,” Leslie said.

On Friday, the Vigo County Board of Commissioners sent a letter to the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce stating they would not attend a chamber workshop on right-to-work legislation.

“We [commissioners Mike Ciolli, Paul Mason and Judy Anderson] … will not be attending the workshop because we disagree with the Terre Haute chamber’s views on this matter,” the letter states. “Also, we were never notified about a vote or a poll of the membership being conducted as to our views on such an important matter.”

Leslie said the board represents more than 700 members. Members nominate members for the board of directors, “which is comprised of the leadership of the decision-making process of the chamber. They are the ones who make decisions on behalf of the membership,” Leslie said.

“In any legislative position that the chamber takes on, there will always be pros and cons of both sides. The chamber’s job is to preserve, protect and promote a business-friendly environment, so we pay close attention to each and every issue that comes before us to determine what position we should take,” Leslie said.

Leslie said the chamber’s organizational structure is set up with committees and a board of directors. “We certainly can’t go out and individually ask every member. However, our membership joins for the very reason we are here, to preserve, protect and promote a business-friendly environment. And, when those hot issues that specifically help or hinder our business community, it is our job to look at those issues and make a good valid decision based on the facts,” Leslie said.

“Our facts come from all different areas and we are very careful on fact-finding,” she said.

George Petit, owner of AAA Electric of Terre Haute Inc., a union contractor, said he disagrees and supports unions.

“I have belonged to the Terre Haute chamber ever since I can remember. I can’t believe that these people are wanting to have this [right-to-work] in here. I have always believed in the chamber, which supported Terre Haute and they worked with the unions. If the chamber is not going to support us, I will not be a member anymore,” Petit said.

“We pay 4 percent to the union. Of that, 1 percent goes [to a special fund], put back so we can compete against non-union [firms] that do not pay prevailing wages,” he said. “Unions are what have made me what I am today,” he added.

Randy Hitchmough, co-owner of Crown Electric Inc. in Terre Haute, is also a union contractor and chamber member. “This [right-to-work] legislation really circumvents what our purpose is and our work load and level, providing skilled labor,” Hitchmough said.

The chamber first sent a notification to its members on Jan. 5, stating its endorsement and support of making Indiana a right-to-work state.

Mark Lee, president of the Vigo County Teachers Association, said he then sent out an email to the 886 members of that teacher’s union.

Lee, in the email, which he provided to the Tribune-Star, stated, “This is another prime example that the Chamber of Commerce is not a friend of working class families. The local chamber did not need to take this stand as other local chambers with large working class populations have chosen not to support the state chamber’s stance,” Lee wrote.

“With our proud labor history and a depressed economic area one would have hoped that the Terre Haute Chamber would not have supported legislation meant to further hurt working men and women that have always been the stalwart of the middle class,” Lee wrote.

Bill Verdeyen, state legislative chairman for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Division 754, and vice president of the Indiana AFL-CIO, said he thinks “this issue has nothing to do with economic development. It has everything to do with diminishing the strength of the working class. There would be no one to support the political party that supports them (working class). If you remove representation from the workers, then the only ones left to support a certain political party are the stockholders and managers, as they are the only people with dispensable income,” Verdeyen said.

“Terre Haute is a blue collar county. We need our representatives to understand that this is the working class,” Verdeyen said. “I don’t think I have heard a Republican yet dispute the claim that this right-to-work law lowers wages. If you have 10,000 workers in a county, which we do in Vigo County, if you lower wages by just a $1, where does that money go?

“That is $10,000 an hour, $80,000 a day and $400,000 a week and nothing got any cheaper. If you hire people then at $9, you have not replaced any money. How does this help small businesses,” as people will have less “dispensable income?” Verdeyen asked..

Also on Friday, Eric Holcomb, chairman of the Indiana Republican Party, in an email encouraging people to attend legislative forums in Evansville, Terre Haute and Jasper, said the issue “is about protecting the freedom of individual choice. It's about workplace fairness and equality. It’s that simple.

“No Hoosier should ever be forced to pay membership dues or forced to make political contributions against their will. Nor should anyone ever be prevented from joining an organization if they choose to,” Holcomb said



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