With the stroke of a pen, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels on Wednesday made his state the 23rd in the nation — and the only one in the Rust Belt — with a "right to work" law on its books. He also made Indiana the latest state in which Republicans have successfully pushed legislation that has angered unions and their traditional allies in the Democratic Party.
Daniels signed the bill hours after the GOP-controlled state Senate passed it in a 28-22 vote; the new law allows workers to avoid paying dues even if the workplace has a union contract.
Unions dislike right-to-work laws, arguing that they allow some workers, whom they call free riders, to get the benefits of labor contracts without having to pay for the cost of negotiations. Proponents of the laws say that forcing someone to pay dues violates their rights.
Daniels said the law would help attract business and jobs to Indiana.
"This law won't be a magic answer, but we'll be far better off with it," he said in a statement. "I respect those who have objected, but they have alarmed themselves unnecessarily: No one's wages will go down, no one's benefits will be reduced, and the right to organize and bargain collectively is untouched and intact."
The bill's fate was long assured. Republicans control both houses of the Legislature, and Daniels made the bill's passage a priority. The only question was the timing; Republicans were pushing to get the measure passed and signed into law before Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI and the resulting national publicity spotlight.
"I'm going to do everything I can to see it repealed," Sen. Vi Simpson, the Democratic leader, said in a telephone interview after the signing. "Indiana doesn't need to go back to the '50's." The state had a right-to-work law at that time, but it was repealed in the 1960s after power changed political hands.
After the Senate vote, thousands of unionists and their allies marched through downtown Indianapolis protesting the law. They also plan informational picketing, Indiana AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Harris said in a telephone interview.
Daniels has warned protesters that any disruption of the Super Bowl would be a mistake.
The major union effort will be geared to the fall election. "Their victory will be as short-lived as this legislation is shortsighted," state AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott said in a statement.
The Midwest was once the nation's manufacturing hub and a center of unionization, but as jobs have fled, unions have seen their political power wane. The GOP has won control of several states' governments and has pushed laws that unions consider anti-labor.
In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker and GOP legislators passed a law last year that eliminated nearly all collective bargaining rights held by public employee unions. Opponents have filed petitions to recall Walker, his lieutenant governor and four state senators, and those documents are being reviewed by state officials.
In Ohio, voters in November repealed a law limiting collective bargaining that was pushed by Gov. John Kasich and fellow Republicans in the Legislature.
Both states are considered battlegrounds in the presidential election, making them targets for national labor leaders.
"Working people are energized and will remember who stood with them and who stood with the 1% on election day," national AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka said.