July 27, 2011

Indiana lawmakers hold hearing on right-to-work

A joint Senate-House committee was holding a hearing this morning on right-to-work, the controversial issue that helped trigger a five-week walk-out by House Democrats in the last legislative session.

The hearing is the first of what is expected to be at least two by the summer study committee, and a precursor to legislation expected to be heard in the next session, which begins in January.

Gov. Mitch Daniels had opposed the legislature getting into the issue last session, saying it had not been debated by voters in the 2010 election.

But the first witness at today’s hearing in the Senate chambers may show that he’s open to having the issue voted upon in the 2012 session: Mitch Roob, his secretary of commerce.

Roob, who also is head of the Indiana Economic Development Corp., said Indiana does “lose opportunities” because it does not have this provision, which blocks companies and unions from negotiating contracts that require non-members to pay fees for representation.

States that do not have this provision in law, he said, are perceived as being less friendly to business, “rightly or wrongly.” If the state adopts this law, he said, it will give Indiana another tool in its arsenal as it competes with other states for businesses. And he noted that the fastest growing states are those with “right to work” laws on their books.

Labor unions, who call this issue the “right to work for less,” also will testify today, arguing that states with this law have lower incomes.

Joe Chorpenning, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 700, noted that Nevada is a right-to-work state but “has the highest unemployment in the country.”