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With NFL Players Behind Them, Groups Plan ‘Occupy Super Bowl’ Protests Of Indiana’s Assault On Workers

By Travis Waldron  

"With NFL Players Behind Them, Groups Plan ‘Occupy Super Bowl’ Protests Of Indiana’s Assault On Workers"

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Protesters march through Super Bowl Village in Indianapolis

Four days before his state hosts Super Bowl XLVI, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) signed anti-union “right-to-work” legislation into law Wednesday afternoon, making Indiana the 23rd right-to-work state in the country. Daniels signed the law despite the fact that thousands of workers gathered outside the statehouse in the days leading up to the law’s passage, and despite his own apparent opposition to such a law back in 2006.

In the days since more than 10,000 protesters marched through downtown Indianapolis, union officials and other organizers have grappled with how, and if, they should make their voices heard during Super Bowl festivities. Daniels has warned opponents of the new law that disrupting the Super Bowl would give the state a “black eye.” Nevertheless, with the National Football League’s Players Association officially opposing the law, labor leaders and organizers affiliated with local Occupy groups have vowed to press on.

“If it does pass, we’ll use this, the world stage that is the Super Bowl, to spread the message that Indiana is an inhospitable place for working men and women,” Jeff Harris, Communications and Outreach Coordinator for the Indiana AFL-CIO, told ThinkProgress before the law passed. “And that the very people that built the stadium in which the Super Bowl is going to be played and the very people who built the city that is enjoying the limelight — the very people who made this possible — are being disrespected.”

The AFL-CIO will have a “constant presence” at Super Bowl events, Harris said, but its actions will be informative rather than disruptive. The union, which encouraged workers to meet with their state representatives in the days before the law passed and organized rallies outside the statehouse Wednesday, will pass out leaflets and pamphlets around Super Bowl village and Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of the game, Harris said.

UNITE HERE, a hotel workers’ union, has organized its own protest of the Hyatt hotel Friday, where several hundred workers will picket to protest low wages, missed overtime pay, and the firing of contract workers. Though its protest isn’t specifically tied to the right-to-work law, UNITE officials say the law will make their ongoing attempts to organize hotel workers harder, and other unions’ protesters will join their picket.

According to a UNITE release, DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, will participate in the protest. Smith has issued a statement and written an editorial against the right-to-work law, and several NFL players, including Indiana native and Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, have also spoken out.

In a January interview with The Nation’s Dave Zirin, Smith, who sits on the AFL-CIO’s executive board, said that “if the issue is still percolating by the time of Super Bowl, I can promise you that the players of the National Football League and their union will be up front about what we think about this and why.” Though Smith is slated to appear at the UNITE protest, the NFLPA wouldn’t confirm if he or other officials would aide other union protests.

But Smith has made his opposition to the Indiana law clear. “We share all the same issues that the American people share,” he told Zirin. “We want decent wages. We want a fair pension. We want to be taken care of when we get hurt. We want a decent and safe working environment. So when you look at proposed legislation in a place like Indiana that wants to call it something like ‘Right to Work,’ I mean, let’s just put the hammer on the nail. It’s untrue.”

Various local Occupy groups will also take action, local organizers told ThinkProgress, to show their support for Indiana workers. And even though right-to-work is now law in Indiana, protesters have promised to keep fighting. “This is not a fight that is going to go away,” Tithi Bhattacharya, a Purdue professor and Occupy Purdue member, said of the right-to-work struggle. “In the coming days and weeks we are going to have to build this struggle on the street, in the workplace and in our communities. Super Bowl Sunday is another opportunity to make our voices heard.”

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