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January 31, 2012

Final vote on Indiana right-to-work bill poised to take place today

Proponents say they’re ready to spread the word

INDIANAPOLIS — Business groups that have pushed for Indiana to become the first right-to-work state in the Rust Belt say they’re ready to start promoting once it becomes law. They’re just not making any promises about how immediately the state will attract new employers.

The Republican-dominated state Senate is poised to take a final legislative vote on the proposal Wednesday and send to Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels the bill that would prohibit contracts between companies and labor unions that require workers to pay union representation fees.

Daniels says he’ll sign the measure into law as soon as it reaches him, which will bring an end to a contentious Statehouse fight during which House Democrats staged a five-week walkout last year and boycotted the House for several days this year to protest the proposal.

Business organizations and Daniels have pushed for the bill, claiming that many companies looking to expand won’t consider Indiana because it isn’t among the 22 states — mostly in the South and West — with a right-to-work law.

John Sampson, president of the Fort Wayne-based Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, said Tuesday the economic development group would be making sure word gets out among its prospects about the change.

“We know some of the companies that turned us down overtly because we’re not a right-to-work state and we’ll certainly go back to them and make pitches,” Sampson said.

Business leaders and state economic development officials already have started talking about raising money for a “strong coordinated effort” to promote the state’s changing status, said Indiana Chamber of Commerce president Kevin Brinegar.

Part of that work will begin this weekend as Daniels said he’ll use activities surrounding the Super Bowl in Indianapolis to sell the state to visiting business executives. Private jets landing in the Indianapolis area also will leave with materials about Indiana’s business climate, he said.

“We’ve always seen this as a great opportunity to do our most important job, which is to try to bring more employment here,” Daniels told reporters this week.

The Senate on Tuesday rejected all amendments offered by Democratic senators to the bill. That action keeps the bill identical to what the House approved last week and clears the way Wednesday’s final vote.

A couple hundred union protesters outside the Senate chamber chanted “Let the people vote!” as Republican senators voted down a proposal for a statewide referendum on the issue — just as House Republicans .

The Senate approved the bill last week 28-22 and Republican Senate President Pro Tem David Long said he expected a similar vote Wednesday.

Unions are planning a protest march from the Statehouse around downtown Indianapolis following the Senate vote, which organizers say will start a drive to build voter turnout for the November election.

Indiana AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Harris said the votes by Republican legislators on the bill drew “a line in the sand on those who stood with the working man and those who did not.”

Harris said organizers hadn’t decided whether the protest march would go through the Super Bowl Village area near Lucas Oil Stadium and didn’t know how many union members they expected to attend.

Sampson, head of the Fort Wayne business group, said Indiana’s right-to-work decision was a frequent topic of discussion during an economic development conference he was attending in San Antonio. He said most site selection experts were aware of the Indiana debate.

“It is a very small community that we work with,” Sampson said. “They’re anxious to add Indiana to their list where right-to-work is not a reason to come anymore.”

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