Indiana’s labor fight similar to, but different from Wisconsin’s

Steven Nelson Associate Editor
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Democratic members of the Indiana House fled the state this week to avoid a vote on a bill that would establish Indiana as a “right to work” state.

“Right to work” signifies that employers cannot make paying union dues a condition of employment, thereby weakening the power of labor unions.

Currently, twenty-two states have right to work laws. Approximately half are in the South. The rest are in states with little heavy industry across the Great Plains and in the West.

This year, with recently elected Republican majorities in legislatures across the country, the number of “right to work” states is poised to increase.

The legislation under consideration in Indiana differs from that in Wisconsin, although Indiana Democratic legislators have emulated the quorum-busting tactics of Wisconsin Democrats.

The Wisconsin legislation would revise the collective bargaining rights of state employees. In Indiana, those rights were eliminated by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels in a 2005 executive order.

Daniels, however, has opposed voting on the “right to work” legislation this year. At a Tuesday press conference, Daniels said that he retains his position that now is not the time for such legislation.

The Indiana legislation is most similar to “right to work” laws being considered in New Hampshire and Ohio.

New Hampshire legislature’s lower house approved a right to work law on February 15. The New Hampshire Senate, with a Republican majority, will likely approve the bill as well. Whether the chambers can overcome a promised veto by Democratic Gov. John Lynch is currently unclear.

In Ohio, Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican majorities in the state legislature can pass a “right to work” law, even if Democratic legislators flee the state to avoid a vote. Only a majority of members are required for a vote in Ohio’s legislature, unlike in Wisconsin and Indiana.