- The Washington Times - Monday, December 10, 2012

LANSING, Mich. — The first shot in the fierce battle over a new right-to-work law that has consumed this state in recent days was fired across the border in Indiana 10 months ago.

While many Democratic lawmakers in Lansing charge that the anti-union legislation was pushed too quickly by Republicans in a lame-duck session, right-to-work backers said Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and other state officials needed only to look at data from across the state’s southwestern border to decide it was time to act.

Since Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, signed the legislation making his state the nation’s 23rd right-to-work state in early February, Indiana has added about 43,000 jobs, while Michigan has lost about 7,300, said Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Mich.

“Indiana absolutely played a role in Michigan,” said Mr. Vernuccio, who was on the ground in Lansing Monday as protesters steadily gathered and police erected barricades near the state Capitol in anticipation of major protests as the GOP-run state Legislature returns to work Tuesday. Mr. Snyder, a former high-tech executive who previously had been cool to the measure, is expected to sign the measure into law later this week. Mr. Snyder himself has cited the fear of being at a competitive disadvantage with Indiana — the first state in the industrial Midwest to embrace right-to-work — as key to his change of heart on the issue.

“They’ve had 90 companies in the pipeline for economic development say this was a factor in deciding to look to come to Indiana,” Mr. Snyder told reporters in explaining his shift. “That’s thousands of jobs. We need more and better jobs in Michigan.”

Among the other changes Indiana saw were in its manufacturing sector, where 13,900 new jobs were added just as nearby Michigan lost 4,200, Mr. Vernuccio said.

The academic debate over right-to-work laws, which end mandatory membership and dues-paying for workers in an organized union workplace, is vast and often contradictory. Supporters say the measures promote business investment and job growth, while opponents say right-to-work laws weaken worker rights and drive down wages.

Democratic Rep. John D. Dingell, the dean of the Michigan congressional delegation, predicted the right-to-work fight will spark fierce political battles whatever its impact on the state’s slowly recovering economy.

“This is something that’s going to set this state on a course for one of the longest, most bitter and angry battles that we have seen over the rights of working men and women to belong to unions and bargain collectively,” Mr. Dingell told reporters here after a private meeting with Mr. Snyder urging him to veto or postpone the bill Monday morning. “It will upset almost everything that we’re trying to do in terms of jobs, economic recovery.”

Michigan Democrats frequently cite a study by the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute reporting that employees in right-to-work states earn $1,500 less annually than their counterparts in states without such laws. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce countered with a study saying personal income grew more in right-to-work states than in those with no right-to-work laws 1977 and 2008.

“Very little is actually known about the impact of right-to-work laws,” said Gary N. Chaison, a professor of labor relations at Clark University in Massachusetts, on Monday. “There’s a lot of assumptions that they create or destroy jobs, but the correlation is not definite.”

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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