(STATEHOUSE) - Thousands of Hoosier union members flooded the statehouse to draw a line in the sand on the negotiations over fixing the bankrupt unemployment insurance fund.
The first words out of House Speaker Patrick Bauer's mouth were exactly what workers came to the statehouse to hear: "We will not cut your benefits." Labor has been mounting a media and lobbying counterattack ever since Senate Republicans approved a bill slashing benefits by $120 million, and closing a series of loopholes to save $369 million more.
The two Democrats on the four-person negotiating committee, House Labor Chairman David Niezgodski (D-South Bend) and Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage), told the rally they won't accept any benefit cuts proposed by the Senate, especially a redefinition of "seasonal workers" they charge would make nearly all construction workers ineligible. Republicans contend some companies are building planned layoffs into their business model and using unemployment to get away with paying less in wages.
Their bill would limit the current "seasonal" time off to 10 weeks instead of six months, and impose a surcharge on employers who tap the fund for benefits every year.
Indiana AFLCIO Secretary-Treasurer Joe Breedlove says the system can be fixed without touching benefits. He says restoring the fund to solvency over several years would minimize the payroll taxes needed to accomplish it.
Legislators have until Wednesday to work out a deal.
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