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Mitch Daniels' Evolution On Right To Work In Indiana

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WASHINGTON -- Indiana's state government is currently locked in a divisive battle over a right-to-work bill, with the legislative session essentially at a standstill as Democrats and Republicans spar over the anti-union measure.

Backing the GOP push for right to work is Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), a popular figure in the Republican Party who was just tapped to deliver the response to President Obama's State of the Union address. But as recently as 2006, Daniels said he opposed making Indiana a right-to-work state.

"We cannot afford to have civil wars over issues that might divide us and divert us from that path. I have said over and over, I'll say it again tonight: I'm a supporter of the labor laws we have in the state of Indiana," he said in a speech to the Teamsters 135 Union Stewards Dinner on Sept. 23, 2006. "I'm not interested in changing any of it. Not the prevailing wage laws, and certainly not the right to work law. We can succeed in Indiana with the laws we have, respecting the rights of labor, and fair and free competition for everybody."

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It wasn't the first time Daniels spoke out against right to work. In March 2006, the South Bend Tribune in Indiana noted, "Daniels had said earlier this year that he opposed right-to-work legislation as too divisive. But he did not address its inherent merits or demerits."

In December 2010, however, Daniels said that the right-to-work issue was "legitimate" but was "too big to do without having discussed it out in the open first."

"I'll also say I think it would have the potential -- just tactically -- to possibly reduce or wreck the chances for education reform and local government reform and criminal justice reform and the things we have a wonderful chance to do," he added, acknowledging that it would be incredibly controversial.

In February 2011, Indiana Democrats left the state and went to Illinois for five weeks to stop their GOP colleagues from moving forward on right to work legislation. Daniels persuaded the legislature to postpone the bill, although he said he still supported Indiana becoming a right-to-work state.

"Knowing how many additional jobs we could be capturing is what has persuaded me that we must enact this reform," he said in December, adding, "In this time when so many are jobless or struggling, it would be irresponsible not to act when we know that thousands of good jobs are at stake."

Right-to-work laws bar unions from automatically collecting dues from workers' paychecks at private companies. In states without the laws, workers at unionized companies generally have to pay the fees instead, even if they don't support unionization.

Supporters of right to work argue that individuals should not be forced to support unions. But the unions note that they provide services and benefits for all employees, and it's unfair for "free riders" to reap the rewards without contributing.

Daniels' office did not return a request for comment.

UPDATE: Twitter user @pat_schernekau also pointed to a 2004 letter signed by Daniels, in which he wrote, "As I have indicated to you in person, I understand your membership's support for the current Indiana law providing a common construction (prevailing) wage for many state contracts, as well as your viewpoint that no need exists to enact a 'right to work' statute in our state. I'm in agreement on both counts." Read the letter here.

UPDATE: Comment from Daniels spokesperson Jane Jankowski:

When Governor Daniels first ran for office in 2004 he said then and in subsequent years he believed Indiana could make its way with the labor laws we have. But two things in particular have changed his mind and led to his support of right to work legislation: Indiana misses many job opportunities and the significant downturn in the national economy. He addressed the issue in his state of the state speech last week and in a Dec. 15 statement when he first said he would support the legislation. Both are below.



In his Dec. 15 statement, Daniels said, "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. ... If the national economy were not in such terrible condition, we might not find this step necessary, but in this time when so many are jobless, or struggling, it would be irresponsible not to act when we know that thousands of good jobs are at stake."

In his recent speech, referenced by Jankowski, Daniels said, "Everyone knows that, among the minority favoring the status quo, passion on this issue is strong, and I respect that. I did not come lightly, or quickly, to the stance I take now. If this proposal limited in any way the right to organize, I would not support it. But we just cannot go on missing out on the middle class jobs our state needs, just because of this one issue."

Labor spokesman Eddie Vale responded, "The only thing that actually changed was Governor Daniels decided he wanted to focus on raising his national profile and becoming a darling of the Tea Party and the undisclosed donors funding this effort instead of representing the people of Indiana."

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