June 20, 2012

How will labor issue play out in Indiana?

by Dave Kitchell
Local Columnist

— Now that the dust has settled in Madison, the questions that beg to be asked in the wake of the first recall election in American history that didn’t recall a governor is “Will Hoosiers recall anything else about the union debate this fall?”

Gov. Scott Walker survived the most expensive recall election for a governor’s race ever. Yet the battle royale in the Badger State tagged a loss on Republican National Committee Chair Reince Preibus’ home state. Republicans retained control of the governor’s office, but lost control of the Wisconsin Senate in another recall race.

Essentially, the Republicans lost their majority rule in the highest house of the Wisconsin Legislature based on one issue: Collective bargaining.

What these two developments mean for the rest of the country is that Republicans and Democrats probably won’t engage in another fight like this any time soon. The cost is simply too high for both sides, especially when there are other fish to fry for both sides in Congress. While Walker pulled out a victory by virtually the same margin that elected him two years ago, one of the reasons is that Democrats did not field a strong candidate against him.

For Indiana and the Logansport area in particular, the outcomes in Wisconsin could provide Hoosiers with a very interesting scenario, depending on how the candidates in the gubernatorial race and the legislature approach it. When Evan Bayh took office for his first term as governor in 1988, he gave state employees the right to do something they hadn’t had before: The right to bargain collectively through organizations such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Bayh did it without legislative action and the result produced virtually no controversies similar to those experienced in the private sector – walkout, lockouts, strikes, marathon bargaining sessions and bitter confrontations at picket lines.

When Gov. Mitch Daniels took office in 2005, he wasted little time in undoing what Bayh had done. Did it save Indiana any money? It’s hard to tell. Did he win points with state employees? Not exactly.

But over time, wage and benefit issues have a way of recurring in the public arena. Before collective bargaining in 1988, wages for Logansport State Hospital employees were usually an annual issue with local residents, primarily because the hospital was and is one of the area’s major employers. The same can be said for Indiana Department of Correction employees. IDOC employs hundreds of employees at the Miami County Correctional Facility and at juvenile detention centers in Logansport.

As Indiana’s economy rebounds, finding and retaining the best candidates for state jobs will likely become more difficult. The churn of state employees in some positions has always been an issue because wages in some cases are usually higher in the private sector. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management frequently experiences turnover because of it.

Maintaining competitive salaries for state employees will particularly be an issue for families with more than one income from the state.

In some cases, many spouses may be working a second jpb because one income isn’t enough anymore.

Whether John Gregg or Mike Pence take a position on the issue, it’s incumbent upon media in a race without incumbents to pin down both candidates on their respective positions. Repealing provisions of collective bargaining was not a campaign platform for Walker or Daniels, yet candidates have a way of changing priorities once they’re elected.

To avoid the media circus Wisconsinites have just experienced, Hoosiers should demand better of their candidates now so that Indiana voters can deliberate their own perceived merits and drawbacks of collective bargaining for state employees.

• Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached through the newspaper at