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Indiana becomes first Rust-Belt 'right to work' state. Will others follow?

Laws that curtail union clout have faced heated opposition in Wisconsin and Ohio, making passage of 'right to work' laws in other industrial states a difficult political proposition.

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“The reason union officials are scared of right to work is they’re worried that if workers in Indiana have a choice to support them, some will choose not to,” he says. 

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Even though Indiana is the 23rd state to adopt right-to-work, the law is more prevalent in the South and West than it is in the Midwest. 

Some in Indiana, like Rep. Jerry Torr, who authored the bill, hope that the Indiana victory will result in subsequent right-to-work measures spreading through the Midwest’s traditional manufacturing belt. 

But it’s unclear though whether the legislation will have broader support.

Indiana has the lowest union workforce in the Rust Belt, which is another reason why right-to-work easily passed there and why the law faces bigger hurdles in states close to its borders. 

Along with Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Governor Snyder in Michigan says that right-to-work is not on his agenda. He told fellow lawmakers in January not to propose a bill because it was too divisive and would distract from creating jobs immediately. 

What’s more there is little worry that companies will suddenly uproot and move to Indiana except in a few bordering counties where the “transportation costs and workforce availability are going to be the same,” says Donald Grimes, a senior research associate at the Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Afterall, Montana, Colorado, and New Mexico all sustain strong economies despite sharing borders with right-to-work states, he says.

In Indiana, right-to-work laws will most certainly cripple the finances of the state’s Democratic Party – some say the real motivation behind the legislation. 

“There is clearly a political motive [by Republicans] behind weakening what is clearly a strong force within the Democratic Party,” says Robert Bruno, direct of the Labor Education Program at the University of Illinois in Chicago. 

The Democratic Party in Indiana receives one-third of its funding from organized labor. Unlike other Midwest states with strong progressive communities, Indiana’s progressives are primarily limited to labor unions, which makes them even more valuable to Democrats.

“At the end of the day, most of our members feel [right-to-work] is more about politics than about economics,” Jeff Harris, a spokesperson for the Indiana chapter of the AFL-CIO says. “This is political payback and about rewarding friends and kicking out enemies.”

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