Indianapolis — State Sen. Tim Skinner arrived at the Indiana Statehouse Monday morning, thinking he’d be talking to a group of teachers about how to slow down some fast-tracked education legislation.
Instead, the Terre Haute Democrat found himself in front of a podium, surrounded by thousands of sign-carrying, slogan-chanting AFL-CIO members fired up by what they see as a legislative assault on organized labor – teachers included.
As the crowd grew restless listening to a line-up of speakers, Skinner set aside the talking points he’d been given by protest organizers and decided, as he later said, “to wing it.”
It didn’t take long for Skinner – a large man with a booming voice – to grab their attention with a bit of blunt reality about how little power unions and their Democratic allies have in the current legislative session.
“It’s like wetting your pants in a dark suit,” Skinner said of being one of just 13 Democrats in the state Senate. “It gives you a warm feeling but nobody notices.”
The protesters who filled the three tiers of the Statehouse did notice, applauding and cheering Skinner as he went on to lambaste legislation that would have a major impact on union members in Indiana.
Among the bills he denounced: a so-called “right to work” bill that would prohibit union membership from being a condition of employment; and a bill that would restrict teachers’ collective bargaining rights.
But if the crowd responded to Skinner, some of his colleagues didn’t. The right-to-work bill passed out of the House Labor Committee late Monday morning on a party-line vote. It now moves on to the full House.
Since January, when Skinner arrived for his ninth year in the state Senate, he’s been telling almost anyone who’d listen that “it’s too late” for the teachers’ unions to stop the sweeping education reform pushed by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and his legislative allies.