Indiana state House approves right-to-work bill

INDIANAPOLIS Wed Jan 25, 2012 10:16pm EST

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INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Indiana moved one step closer to becoming the first right-to-work state in the country's old manufacturing belt on Wednesday after its Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed legislation banning unions from collecting mandatory dues from workers.

Passage of the controversial measure, one of Governor Mitch Daniels' signature issues, was the latest setback for organized labor in the industrial Midwest, long a stronghold for unions, after Wisconsin imposed curbs on public sector collective bargaining rights last year.

The Indiana House approved the right-to-work bill, which bars employers from signing contracts that require workers to pay union dues, by a 54-to-44 margin on Wednesday, even though five Republicans joined Democratic lawmakers to oppose it.

The state Senate had voted 28 to 22 in favor of the measure on Monday, with nine Republicans joining all 13 Democrats in voting against it.

Daniels, who gave the Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech on Tuesday, has promised to quickly sign the measure once it hits desk, saying it will help Indiana attract businesses and jobs to the state.

Opponents have called it a "union busting" measure designed to weaken a key Democratic constituency in an election year.

Under the law, employees in the state cannot be forced to pay union dues -- even if they work at companies where the workforce is unionized. Such statutes are in force in 22 states, mostly in the South and West.

State House Democrats had used delay tactics to try to thwart passage of the measure, staying off the House floor for several days to deny the majority Republicans a quorum. Republicans responded by imposing $1,000-a-day fines on the missing lawmakers, which the Democrats fought in court.

Democrats also sought to introduce several amendments, including an effort to put the right-to-work measure before voters in a referendum, but Republicans defeated them.

Before heading to Daniels' desk, the measure will make a brief, procedural detour back to the Republican-controlled state Senate. That chamber passed its own version of the bill but now needs to sign off on the House version.

Measures to curb the powers of public-sector and private sector unions were introduced in several midwestern states last year after gains in the 2010 elections gave Republicans control or strengthened majorities.

The impact was notable in Wisconsin and Ohio, both potential swing states in the November election, as well as in Indiana.

In Wisconsin, Republican proposals to limit public-sector union powers sparked extended protests at the Capitol in Madison, but were ultimately adopted.

The polarizing debate in Wisconsin led to efforts to recall state senators in both parties last year, and Democrats were also seeking to force Republican Governor Scott Walker into a recall election.

In Ohio, the Republican-led legislature approved changes to the powers of public-sector unions, but voters turned back the effort in a referendum last November.

(Writing by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Greg McCune and Cynthia Johnston)

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