Indiana right-to-work law advances toward approval

INDIANAPOLIS Mon Jan 30, 2012 11:31am EST

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Republicans lawmakers began a final push on Monday to approve legislation that would make Indiana the first right-to-work state in the nation's manufacturing belt, dealing a setback to organized labor in a presidential election year.

The measure, already given preliminary approval by both chambers of the Indiana legislature, would allow workers to opt out of paying union dues, even when a workplace is unionized.

Supporters of right-to-work, led by Indiana's Republican Governor Mitch Daniels, say it is needed to bring business and jobs to the state. Opponents call it "union busting" and say it will hurt workers with lower wages.

A state Senate committee voted 6 to 1 to advance the measure to the full Senate in a hearing attended by no Democratic committee members. The full Senate was expected to give the measure a final approval on Wednesday, sending it on to Daniels for his signature.

Republican Senator Brent Waltz of Indianapolis, who was the lone dissenting vote, said: "The more I hear about right to work the less convinced I am that it will create any meaningful amount of jobs in Indiana."

Daniels, who considered running for president last year and gave the Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union message last Tuesday, has made passage of right-to-work one of his priorities for this year.

Indiana would join 22 other states with right-to-work laws, most of them in the South and West. Indiana's action has stirred a national debate because no state has approved right-to-work legislation since Oklahoma a decade ago. Unions fear other states will be encouraged to pass similar laws.

Opponents in the state Senate and House of Representatives filed a series of amendments to limit the scope of the legislation, including letting voters decide on right to work via referendum. The amendments were rejected in both chambers, which have Republican majorities.

Organized labor could be a significant issue during the 2012 election year. In addition to the Indiana action, Democrats and unions are hoping to recall Wisconsin's Republican Governor Scott Walker after he championed a new law that severely restricted collective bargaining powers of public sector unions in the state.

(Editing by Greg McCune and Paul Thomasch)

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