INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana — While Super Bowl players prepared for Sunday's NFL title showdown, protesting workers marched on the host stadium after a vote Wednesday by Indiana lawmakers to weaken union power in the state.
With thousands of protesters in and around the Statehouse in the shadow of the NFL host hotel, the Indiana Senate voted 28-22 for a bill that forbids companies from making deals with unions that force non-members to pay dues.
"It's a union-busting tactic all the way," said protesting carpenter Mike Coomes. "You just create more poverty. They want us to go back to slavery. We've worked 150 years to get here and they wiped it out in one vote."
With Indiana governor Mitch Daniels set to sign the bill into law, thousands of protesters marched a few blocks down the stret to Lucas Oil Stadium, where the New York Giants will face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 46.
"We're the ones who built these skyscrapers -- union laborers, we built that stadium," said John Davis, who works in several trades in Southern Indiana. "Who's going to buy the tickets?"
Some Indiana NFL players have supported the workers but the Giants, whose hotel is a block from the Statehouse, and Patriots were focused on pre-game plans, coaches making pains to minimize distractions.
It's not like NFL players are not unionized. The NFL Players Association and owners had a 4 1/2-month standout before making a deal to divide $9.3 billion in revenues last July so there could even be a season and a Super Bowl in Indy.
"It wasn?t an easy process," said Patriots guard and NFLPA executive Brian Waters. "The concern was for the game and making sure we didn't interrupt this great product that we have. Fans around the world really enjoy this game and we all knew if we were to interrupt that it would have been bad for everybody."
There is big money at stake.
About 110 million people in America are expected to watch Sunday's Super Bowl and television commercials that sold out at $3.5 million for 30 seconds. Last year's Super Bowl was the most-watched show in US TV history and 23 of the 25 highest-watched US shows in 2011 were NFL games.
Daniels joined organizers earlier in the week as they pitched a Super Bowl return. This year's game is expected to add $150 million to the Indianapolis economy and even more if it boosts tourism and convention business.
"I think we will be able to show the world that we're deserving of a second chance somewhere down the line," Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said. "Ask not what the Super Bowl can do for you but what you can do for the Super Bowl."
Andy Carr, a carpenter, was asking what had been done to wage and workplace condition safeguards by lawmakers.
"If we shut down this whole city, I don't think it would matter," Carr said. "I don't think they would understand... People died for what we're having taken away. Those things weren't given to us."
In the few steps between the Giants' hotel and the Statehouse is a history marker recalling an 1861 visit to that spot by US President Abraham Lincoln and his words on the value of remaining united.
Although he spoke of states rather than people, the words offered meaning for the moment.
"It is your business if this Union and the liberties of this people shall be lost," Lincoln said. "It is your business to rise up and preserve this Union."
Photo credit: Nick Lashbrook