INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Mitch Daniels said Thursday he will support a "right-to-work" measure in his final legislative session as governor.
Daniels has all but said over the last few months that he wants to make Indiana the 23rd state to ban businesses and unions from requiring workers to pay union dues or other labor fees. Thursday he made his support official.
"After a year of study and reflection, I have come to agree that it is time for Indiana to join the 22 states which have enacted right to work laws," Daniels said in a statement Thursday.
Opponents and supporters of the issue have clamored to claim public support for their side. But a poll released earlier in the day by Ball State University showed Hoosier's are largely undecided on the issue. Of 607 Hoosiers polled in November, 48 percent said they were undecided, 27 percent said they support the measure and 24 percent said they oppose it. The poll carries a 4.4 percent margin of error.
Daniels' new support for the measure marks an evolution of sorts. Earlier this year he asked lawmakers to postpone debate on the issue, lest it derail his attempts to pass sweeping education legislation amid the national glare of presidential speculation. In his recently-released book, Daniels was scornful of "right-to-work" advocates.
But in the two months since a legislative study committee submitted its analysis of the issue, Daniels has embarked on something of a publicity tour for "right to work," holding editorial board meetings and touting a finding from his economic development board in favor of the proposal.
The Indiana AFL-CIO quickly called Daniels' support a slap against Hoosiers as he prepares to leave office next year.
"While everyone knew this announcement was coming, it's still disappointing that on his way out the door, Governor Daniels would choose political paybacks over economic progress for the citizens of this state," said Indiana AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott in a statement.
Daniels' backing gives advocates their biggest name supporter yet in the labor battle that threatens to dominate the 2012 session. His support adds to declarations from House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Indianapolis, that they will make passing "right-to-work" their top priority next year.
The labor battle during the 2011 session sparked a five-week walkout by House Democrats. House Minority Leader Pat Bauer has not said whether Democrats will walk out again to block the measure.
Bauer, Bosma, Long and Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson, D-Bloomington, meanwhile gave a preview Thursday of the acrid debate likely to dominate the 2012 session.
"Now it appears we want Chinese working conditions, Chinese salaries and a Chinese environment," said Bauer, alluding to poor working conditions in China.
Bosma quickly cut off Bauer. "I hope you realize those were the same responses we had to Major Moves," Bosma said, referring to the debate that prefaced the leasing of the Indiana Toll Road.