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Indiana Legislature Secures Final Passage of Right-to-Work Legislation

Before moving on to Arizona, let’s note that Indiana will soon become the nation’s 23rd right-to-work state, after the state Senate passed a revised bill to that effect. The bill now can go to Governor Mitch Daniels for his signature.

Lawmakers voted Wednesday to make Indiana the Rust Belt’s first right-to-work state, passing legislation that prohibits labor contracts requiring workers to pay union representation fees.

Thousands of union members gathered inside the Statehouse chanted “Shame on you!” and “See you at the Super Bowl!” as the vote was announced. Thousands more amassed outside for a rally that spilled into the Indianapolis streets, already bustling with Super Bowl festivities, hoping to point a national spotlight on the state.

Indiana will be the first state in a decade to enact a right-to-work law, although few states with legislation in place boast Indiana’s union clout, borne of a long manufacturing legacy. The move is likely to embolden national right-to-work advocates who have unsuccessfully pushed the measure in other states following a Republican sweep of statehouses in 2010.

The rally was actually pretty large, with at least 6,000 protesters according to local police. Here’s a picture courtesy Think Progress.

The local AFL-CIO plans to take this right to the Super Bowl, being held in Indianapolis on Sunday. Spokesman Jeff Harris promised that protesters would leaflet before the game. The NFLPA union previously condemned the bill, but there’s no word on player actions before or during the game. Mitch Daniels, who promised to sign the bill upon arrival, said it would be a “colossal mistake” on the part of unions to protest the game.

Even if they do make a statement on Super Bowl Sunday with the nation watching, this is pretty much over. Although, Indiana AFL-CIO president Nancy Guyott looked back to history in her statement:

On behalf of all working men and women across Indiana, we are extremely disappointed that the Indiana General Assembly has passed the “right to work for less” bill today. They have set our state upon a path that will lead to lower wages for all working Hoosiers, less safety at work, and less dignity and security in old age or ill health. Indiana’s elected officials have given the wrong answer to the most important question of this generation.

I am reminded of the saying “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” and it seems especially fitting today. Hoosiers have been here before. From 1957 to 1965, Indiana experimented with this exact same law and after its utter failure to produce on any of its promises of economic salvation Hoosiers rose up, changed elected officials and repealed it.

It appears we are headed there again.

The fight for repeal, then, begins today in Indiana. But it was probably easier to win back the state in 1965, with less money in politics. Now they have to go up against a tsunami of funding, and the union share of that pie will be dramatically reduced by the right-to-work law.

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David Dayen

David Dayen