Jan. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Indiana’s House of Representatives approved a bill that would exempt nonunion employees from paying dues when working alongside union workers, a critical step toward final passage.
Democrats boycotted some of the Republican-controlled chamber’s sessions for about three weeks, preventing a quorum. The House passage by a vote of 54-44 sends the bill to the Senate, which already cleared a version. Indiana would be the first state to endorse such a law since Oklahoma approved a similar measure in 2001.
Republican lawmakers view the measure as a cost-cutting, job-creating tool, while Democrats call it union-busting that will lower wages.
“What you’re doing to the great state of Indiana, it’s a shame, it’s a shame, it’s a shame,” Democratic Representative John Bartlett said during floor debate as union workers shouted and jeered outside the chamber doors.
Republicans were able to move the bill along after Democrats returned from a two-day boycott.
“This has nothing to do with busting unions,” said Republican Representative Jerry Torr, the bill’s sponsor. “I’m convinced it will bring jobs and employers to Indiana.”
Republican Governor Mitch Daniels, 62, who backed off a similar measure in 2011, supports it now, calling it a “bold stroke.”
The issue led to a five-week boycott last year, with House Democrats leaving the state to prevent the chamber from conducting business. This year’s fight comes as Indianapolis prepares to host the National Football Association’s Super Bowl championship on Feb. 5. The NFL Players Association condemned the right-to-work bill in a Jan. 6 statement, calling it “a political ploy designed to destroy basic workers’ rights.”
Twenty-two states, mostly in the Deep South and the Rocky Mountain West, have enacted right-to-work laws. Republican statehouse gains in the 2010 elections prompted legislation in states including Wisconsin and Ohio that was aimed at restricting bargaining rights for government workers’ unions.
Indiana’s bill targets labor contracts with businesses. Union members composed 10.9 percent of the state’s workforce in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s down from 15.4 percent in 2000.
‘Little by Little’
“We don’t want minimum-wage jobs in Indiana,” Representative Shelli VanDenburgh, a Democrat, said during debate. “What happens is, little by little, the union goes away. People don’t see the big picture.”
Republicans called Democratic attacks overblown.
“The sky will not fall the day after right to work passes,” said Representative Sue Ellspermann, a Republican. “Not a single right-to-work state has chosen to return to their non-right-to-work status.”
Anti-union measures have torn the Midwest since last year, when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, 44, pushed collective- bargaining curbs on public employees, causing weeks of protests and dividing the state of 5.7 million people.
At least 1 million people have signed petitions to force a recall election for Walker, nearly as many as the 1.1 million who voted for him in 2010.
In Ohio, voters repealed a law in November limiting collective bargaining for public employees that first-term Governor John Kasich and fellow Republican lawmakers enacted last year. The measure, which affected about 360,000 teachers, police officers, firefighters and other government workers, was overturned 62 percent to 38 percent in a Nov. 8 ballot referendum.
--With assistance from Timothy Jones in Chicago. Editor: Stephen Merelman
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