Right-to-work redux at the Statehouse

Workers bending chair backs at Indiana's Tell City Chair Factory in 1940. Concern about protecting workers' rights fuels concerns with right-to-work laws, economic development desires drive the effort to pass RTW legislation in Indiana.

By Samm Quinn and Lesley Weidenbener

Republican Gov.

Mitch Daniels

announced in a statement Thursday that he would support GOP

right-to-work proposals at the General Assembly next month, even as a

new poll

finds that a majority of Hoosiers

are undecided about the issue.

Daniels said that Indiana "gets dealt out of hundreds

of new job opportunities" because it doesn't have the law, which would

free workers from paying dues to unions they don't join, even if the group

represents them.

"Lack of that simple freedom to choose costs some

workers money they'd rather keep, but it also costs something even larger:

Countless middle-class jobs that would come to Indiana if only we provided

right to work protection," Daniels said.

Republican legislative leaders already have announced they

would make right-to-work

their top priority for the session. But while Daniels has said he supported the

concept, he had previously stopped short of saying he would back a

right-to-work law in Indiana.

On Thursday, the governor said that after a year of study

and reflection, he has decided that "knowing how many additional jobs we

could be capturing is what has persuaded me that we must enact this

reform."

"When a business allows us to compete, we win

two-thirds of the time," Daniels said in the statement. "But between

a quarter and a half of the time, we don't make the first cut, due to this

single handicap."

Democrats and union leaders oppose right-to-work. They say

it will weaken unions and lead to lower wages.

On Thursday, AFL-CIO

President Nancy Guyott said the governor's decision to back the legislation

"is disappointing."

"It's a little bit ironic as the governor has contended

for seven years, Indiana can prosper with the labor laws that we have,"

Guyott said. "As a number of polls now show it's not an issue Hoosiers are

now clamoring for."

A new Ball

State University

poll has found that nearly half of all Hoosiers are

undecided about the right-to-work proposal, which is expected to dominate the

upcoming legislative session.

The survey of 607 Hoosiers shows 27 percent of respondents

support and 24 percent oppose a right-to-work law, which would free workers

from paying fees to unions they don't join.

The poll found 48 percent of respondents were undecided or

had no opinion. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage

points.

"This is not a settled issue in Indiana," said

Raymond Scheele, co-director of the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball

State. "There's a lot of persuasion that has to take place."

The Bowen Center released the poll Thursday morning at the

Legislative Conference, an annual event that previews the General Assembly's

session, which begins in January.

Minutes later, legislative leaders were debating the issue

in a feisty forum that previewed just how divisive the right-to-work proposals

will be.

Senate

President Pro Tem David Long

, R-Fort Wayne, said Thursday the issue is

about creating jobs and offering choices to workers, not about hurting unions.

But Democrats say the proposal is meant to weaken unions and

will lead to lower wages statewide. And Senate

Minority Leader Vi Simpson

, D-Ellettsville, said the resulting debate will

distract lawmakers from acting on other job-creation measures.

"The whole session is going to be eaten up by this

issue," Simpson said.

Critics and supporters of right-to-work proposals have been

touting their own studies and polls. But Scheele said Ball State officials

worked to carefully frame their questions to reflect both points of view.

He said the phrase "right to work" doesn't tell

respondents enough to make an informed judgment. Scheele said when Hoosiers

hear both sides, many are undecided.

"Clearly neither side on this issue has yet closed the

sale on whether there should be right to work or whether the bill should be

defeated," Scheele said.

House Minority Leader Pat

Bauer

, D-South Bend, said lawmakers should postpone the discussion until

after the next election to discuss right to work but Republicans said it can't

wait.

"It's worth the effort," Long said. "It will

make a difference, and it will be a game changer for Indiana."

Daniels' statement on right to work:

After a year of study

and reflection, I have come to agree that it is time for Indiana to join the 22

states which have enacted right to work laws.

Right to work says

only that no worker can be forced to pay union dues in order to keep a job.

Lack of that simple freedom to choose costs some workers money they'd rather

keep, but it also costs something even larger: countless middle-class jobs that

would come to Indiana if only we provided right to work protection.

Seven years of

experience at our Indiana Economic Development Corporation has confirmed what

every economic development expert tells us: despite our top-ranked business

climate, Indiana gets dealt out of hundreds of new job opportunities because we

have no right to work law. When a business allows us to compete, we win

two-thirds of the time. But between a quarter and a half of the time, we don't

make the first cut, due to this single handicap. Knowing how many additional

jobs we could be capturing is what has persuaded me that we must enact this

reform.

I have listened with

respect to the advocates of compulsory dues and looked into their arguments,

but they just don't hold up. Right to work states have, if anything, better

rates of worker safety. The vital right to organize is totally unaffected;

every right to work state has significant union presence, and some have higher

rates of unionization than Indiana does.

If the national

economy were not in such terrible condition, we might not find this step

necessary, but in this time when so many are jobless, or struggling, it would

be irresponsible not to act when we know that thousands of good jobs are at

stake.

Lesley Weidenbener is editor of the Franklin College Statehouse Bureau and oversees the bureau's student reporting force.

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