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Wednesday, February 23, 2011 | 7:15 AM

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Protests against union-busting state bills are sweeping the Midwest today, with thousands packing the Capitol in Ohio, Indiana's House Democrats staging a walkout and Wisconsin Democrats remaining in hiding outside the state.

In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels signaled this afternoon that he was ready to drop the so-called "right to work" bill after only three of the state's 40 House Democrats showed up this morning, according to The Indianapolis Star.

Jay LaPrete, AP
Demonstrators display signs during a protest against Senate Bill 5 outside the Ohio Statehouse on Tuesday in Columbus.The rest were reportedly on their way to Illinois and Kentucky, stopping the legislative process in its tracks by denying their chamber the 67 members required for a quorum.

Daniels told reporters he thought the Democrats would return to work if the bill dies, the Star reported.

As in Wisconsin and Ohio, the Democrats in Indiana are protesting legislation that critics call a bid to rein in the power of unions by eroding collective bargaining. The "right to work" bill would keep companies and unions from negotiating contracts that required nonunion members to pay representation fees.

In Wisconsin, Senate Democrats walked out last week rather than vote on Gov. Scott Walker's bill that would force public workers to pay more for their benefits. He also wants to cut collective bargaining for nearly all workers.

In Ohio, thousands of protesters rallied inside and outside the Capitol building in Columbus to oppose a bill that would effectively end collective bargaining for state workers and significantly reduce bargaining for local workers.

While the protests in Ohio have largely mirrored those in Wisconsin and Indiana, Democrats in Ohio's Statehouse don't have the same ability to stymie legislation by walking out on the process. Republicans in the Ohio Senate have a 23-10 majority and an 8-4 majority on the Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee.

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Union leaders and Democratic opponents interpret the bills as political power plays, while Republican supporters of the various bills say they are a way to give government leaders control over their budgets in a time of fiscal crisis.

Ohio's Senate Bill 5 was introduced Feb. 8 by Republican Sen. Shannon Jones and is supported by Gov. John Kasich. Ohio is facing an $8 billion budget deficit, which amounts to 11 percent of its budget. (In contrast, Wisconsin faces a $3.6 billion deficit and Indiana a $300 million deficit.)

"Let me be clear: I am not doing this to punish employees who serve this state day after day," Jones said during testimony Feb. 8, according to The New York Times. "I am doing this because I want to give the government flexibility and control over its work force."

The leaders of Ohio's police and firefighters unions this morning called for the government to slow down the progress of the bill to allow time for discussion, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Meanwhile, in Indiana, Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker told the Star that Democrats would return when Republicans drop the legislation they see as an "assault on the middle class."

This article orignally appeared in AOL News, February 24, 2011


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