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State economic development group backs right-to-work

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The board of directors of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. has thrown its support behind the push for right-to-work legislation.

The agency, which uses tax incentives and training grants to attract business expansions to Indiana, unanimously passed a resolution to support the legislation, which Republican lawmakers have promised to push in the upcoming General Assembly. The IEDC said the state doesn’t even get a chance to compete for as many as half of the expansion projects out there “due solely to the absence of a right-to-work law.”

"The last seven years of IEDC experience tell us that Indiana is blocked from too many job opportunities because we do not provide right-to-work protection to our workers," said former Lt. Gov. John Mutz, who is a member of the IEDC board of directors and chairman of its policy committee, in a prepared statement. "Especially in this tough national economy, it's a handicap."

Right-to-work laws allow employees to join unionized workplaces without being forced to pay union dues. Labor unions feel threatened by such legislation, which has been passed in roughly half of U.S. states. Indiana Democrats staunchly oppose the legislation, which sparked them to stage a five-week walkout during the 2011 General Assembly.

House Republicans backed off the proposal quickly, but they’re bringing it back now, saying it is their No. 1 priority in the 2012 session. House Speaker Brian Bosma has even been spending his own campaign cash to buy ads supporting the law, according to a report by The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne.

The IEDC is part of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ administration, but the agency made a point of saying that Daniels, who chairs the IEDC board, does not vote on resolutions and did not participate in Thursday’s vote.

Daniels has yet to say whether he will support that legislative push, but he came awfully close during a Nov. 29 press conference, which was reported on by several news media outlets.

“I’ll just say that in this national economy we need absolutely every edge we can get to bring the middle-class jobs here that are in short supply all over the country,” he said. “I’ll also observe there’s a lot of competition particularly in our region.”

Daniels has said he will detail his legislative agenda during a Dec. 16 speech to the Kiwanis Club.

An interim study committee held hearings on right-to-work this summer and fall, and voted 5-4 along party lines to recommend that the Legislature consider it.

Abbreviating right-to-work as RTW, the majority report stated, “Becoming a RTW state would likely bring more jobs to Indiana by making the state even more attractive to relocating and expanding companies.”

But four dissenting members of the committee, in their own report, said the evidence from other states suggests no such thing. They worry that a right-to-work law would lower Hoosier wages, but give Indiana no great advantage in attracting jobs.

“RTW is also not an effective strategy for winning a competition for low wages in a global economy,” the four members wrote. “The availability of cheap labor overseas limits the effectiveness of RTW policies to attract companies looking for lower labor costs.”

Sen. Jim Arnold (D-LaPorte), one of the dissenting members of the study committee, said the predominantly Republican proponents of right-to-work legislation favor it more because they see it as a free-speech issue and because it will weaken unions, which typically support Democrats.

"I think their reasons are more political than pragmatic, quite honestly. Why do we feel it’s so important to address the 11 or 12 percent of [the workforce that are] union members," Arnold said in an interview. He added, "It’s a needless, senseless fight to be taken on at this point in time."

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