It is yet another blow to organized labor in the heavily unionized Midwest, which is home to many of the country's manufacturing jobs. Wisconsin last year stripped unions of collective bargaining rights.
The vote came after weeks of protest by minority Democrats who tried various tactics to stop the bill. They refused to show up to debate despite the threat of fines that totaled $1,000 per day and introduced dozens of amendments aimed at delaying a vote. But conceding their tactics could not last forever because they were outnumbered, they finally agreed to allow the vote to take place.
The House voted 54-44 Wednesday to make Indiana the nation's 23rd right-to-work state. The measure is expected to face little opposition in Indiana's Republican-controlled Senate and could reach Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels' desk shortly before the Feb. 5 Super Bowl in Indianapolis.
"This announces especially in the Rust Belt, that we are open for business here," Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said of the right-to-work proposal that would ban unions from collecting mandatory representation fees from workers.
Republicans recently attempted similar anti-union measures in other Rust-Belt states like Wisconsin and Ohio where they have faced massive backlash. Ohio voters overturned Gov. John Kasich's labor measures last November and union activists delivered roughly 1 million petitions last week in an effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Indiana would mark the first win in 10 years for national right-to-work advocates who have pushed unsuccessfully for the measure in other states following a Republican sweep of statehouses in 2010. But few right-work states boast Indiana's union clout, borne of a long manufacturing legacy.
Oklahoma, with its rural-based economy that produces comparatively fewer union jobs than Indiana, passed right-to-work legislation in 2001.
Hundreds of union protesters packed the halls of the Statehouse again Wednesday, chanting "Kill the Bill!" and cheering Democrats who had stalled the measure since the start of the year.
House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer said the legislative battle has been an "unusual fight" from the beginning, but Democrats waged a noble effort against majority Republicans determined to pass the bill.
"What did they fight for? They fought for less pay, less workplace safety and less health care. This is their only job plank: job creation for less pay with the so-called right to work for less bill."
Republicans foreshadowed their strong showing Monday when they shot down a series of Democratic amendments to the measure in strict party-line votes. Democrats boycotted again for an eighth day
Republicans handily outnumber Democrats in the House 60-40, but Democrats have just enough members to deny the Republicans the 67 votes needed to achieve a quorum and conduct any business. Bosma began fining boycotting Democrats $1,000 a day last week, but a Marion County judge has blocked the collection of those fines.
The measure now moves to the Indiana Senate which approved its own right-to-work measure earlier in the week. Gov. Mitch Daniels has campaigned extensively for the bill and said he would sign it into law.