Thursday, January 26, 2012

Indiana poised to adopt 'right-to-work' law

Times Wire Services

January 26, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers Wednesday all but guaranteed that the state would become the first since 2001 to prohibit unions from collecting mandatory fees from workers.

The Indiana "right-to-work" bill makes it illegal for union membership to be required or for unions to collect dues from nonmembers. Union leaders say the provisions will hobble their ability to bargain for better wages, while business interests say they are needed to attract new investment.

The state House passed the bill 54 to 44 after weeks of protests by minority Democrats, who tried various tactics to derail it. They refused to show up for debates despite the threat of fines that totaled $1,000 per day, and they introduced dozens of amendments aimed at delaying a vote. Finally, conceding their tactics could not last forever, they agreed to allow the vote to take place.

Republicans outnumber Democrats in the House 60 to 40, but Democrats have just enough seats to deny Republicans the 67 votes needed to achieve a quorum and conduct business.

The legislation now moves to the Senate, which has already approved a version of it. Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels is certain to sign it, making Indiana the 23rd state with a right-to-work law.

"This announces, especially in the Rust Belt, that we are open for business here," Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said.

The House Democratic leader, Patrick Bauer, said the legislative battle was an "unusual fight" from the beginning but that Democrats waged a noble battle.

"What did they [Republicans] fight for? They fought for less pay, less workplace safety and less healthcare," Bauer said. "This is their only job plank: job creation for less pay with the so-called right-to-work-for-less bill."

Daniels and other supporters say union curbs are key to attracting new businesses. Union leaders say the rules weaken their bargaining power and will force down wages.

Despite a strong manufacturing base — steel mills in northwestern Indiana and auto plants scattered across the central part of the state — Hoosiers pride themselves on a rural character more common to Southern and Western states where "right to work" is the law of the land. The last state to approve such a law was Oklahoma in 2001.

The legislation is yet another blow to organized labor in the heavily unionized Midwest, home to many of the country's manufacturing jobs. Wisconsin stripped public sector unions of collective bargaining rights last year. So did Ohio, but voters overturned the law.

About 11% of Indiana's workforce is unionized, ranking it among the top half of the states. The rate is higher in Michigan, with 16%; Illinois, with 15.5%; and Ohio, with 13%.

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