INDIANAPOLIS — Hundreds of union members filled hallways of the Indiana Statehouse and lined the sidewalks outside Wednesday, marking the start of the second year of boisterous debate over the Republican-backed right-to-work proposal.
Many protesters waited in long lines in cold morning temperatures at a single public entrance until Gov. Mitch Daniels rescinded new Statehouse security rules and crowd limits, a move that opened up two more public entrances.
The protesters carried signs and displayed banners outdoors decrying the right-to-work bill as a politically motivated attack on unions.
"Corporations have lawyers who fight for them, the union works for us by making sure we have benefits for all the employees," said United Auto Workers member Jacquie Burton, who works at a Chrysler factory in Kokomo.
Union officials are encouraging members to show up at the Statehouse as long as the proposal, which would bar businesses and private unions from mandating that workers pay union fees for representation, is under consideration.
But one of the bill's leading advocates says it doesn't think the protest crowds will matter much.
"I don't think the protests are going to sway any votes," said Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel. "There are people who are going to vote no, but it's not because they've been swayed by protesters."
The only noticeable disruption came from a short burst of cheers from some protesters who filled the public gallery of the House chamber after an attempt by Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma to gavel the chamber into session failed because most Democrats remained in a private strategy meeting.
The protest crowds were smaller than the largest ones seen during last year's session, and state police Capt. Dave Bursten said the number of arriving visitors appeared well short of the 1,300 maximum that the rescinded Statehouse capacity limit had set.
Dozens of uniformed state troopers brought in from posts around Indiana were stationed around the Statehouse, which some protesters said bothered them.
"We aren't here to fist fight," said Pat Schroder, a bricklayers union member from Marion. "We just want our voices heard."