Activists ‘Occupy the Super Bowl’ in Protest Over Indiana’s Union-Busting Bill

Allison Kilkenny

Members of area labor unions and Occupy Wall Street demonstrators participate in a "March For Jobs and Fairness" in New York City. Indiana is slated to pass an anti-union law that would exempt nonunion workers from paying union fees.

Indiana joins the ranks of states that have adopted controversial right-to-work labor laws prohibiting contracts that require workers to pay union fees. Republicans leaders secured passage of the law with a 28-22 vote in the Senate before rushing the bill to the governor’s desk.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican who is prevented by term limits from seeking re-election this year, skipped the traditional public signing ceremony that typically accompanies such a legislative victory in order to sign the bill in private.

The passing of the bill makes Indiana the 23rd state to implement anti-union measures, and in response pro-worker activists descended upon the Statehouse Wednesday. Police estimate that 3,000 protesters packed the Capitol with another 3,0004,000 flooding the surrounding lawn.

Unions have vowed to fight the law, and see an opportunity in the upcoming Super Bowl, which Indiana hosts this year, since a guaranteed enormous media presence will give activists an opportunity to share their grievances at the national level.

Pro-worker protesters have already taken advantage of the increased media presence in Indiana when dozens marched to downtown Indianapolis’ Super Bowl village holding or wearing protest signs and stood behind Al Roker and Ann Curry as they reported live. (photo from Indys​tar​.com)

Some 150 protesters descended upon downtown Indianapolis last week with signs that read, Occupy the Super Bowl,” Fight the Lie” and Workers United Will Prevail.” The protesters even had Occupy the Super Bowl” matching t-shirts. (photo by Dave Zirin)

The scope of the Super Bowl protests isn’t limited to the right-to-work bill passage, Dave Zirin at The Nation reports, but will instead be about the much larger problem of wealth disparity in Indianapolis.

The protests also promise to shed light on the reality of life for working families in the city of Indianapolis. Unemployment is at 13.3 percent, with unemployment for African-American families at 21 percent. Two of every five African-American families with a child under 5 live below the anemic poverty line. Such pain amidst the gloss of the Super Bowl and the prospect of right-to-work legislation is, for many, a catalyst to just do something.

The establishment media typically covers union-busting disputes as a he said-she said affair. Corporations say busting unions helps save costs, which they claim to pass on to the consumer, and unions say right-to-work bills hurt workers. 

But the simple truth is an average worker in a right to work state makes about $5,333 a year less (PDF) than workers in other states and 21 percent more workers lack health insurance when compared to free-bargaining states. Right-to-work states give lower workers’ compensation benefits for people injured on the job and have more workplace deaths and injuries (the rate of workplace deaths is 51 percent higher in RTW states).

In Indiana, workers have vowed to fight for the bill’s repeal.


Bruce Frazier, 56, an ironworker from Muncie who works in Indianapolis, stood on the south lawn of the Statehouse on Wednesday afternoon surrounded by more than a thousand union members and supporters protesting the vote.

Frazier said many of the buildings now being used for this week’s Super Bowl events were built with skilled labor.

We built everything in Indianapolis to bring the Super Bowl here – and this is how they thank us, by breaking our way to make a living,” he said.

Indiana AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Harris said protesters planned to hand out leaflets before Sunday’s game. Daniels said this week that it would be a colossal mistake” for union protesters to disrupt Super Bowl festivities and that any such move could backfire on them.

Indiana AFL-CIO president Nancy Guyott pledged that Wednesday’s vote wouldn’t be a permanent victory, noting that Indiana has adopted and repealed right to work before.

We’ll take our state back, one block at a time,” she said.

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Allison Kilkenny is an In These Times Staff Writer and the co-host of the critically acclaimed radio show Citizen Radio. Her blog for In These Times, Uprising, focuses on efforts around the world to address the global economic crisis.
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