By Susan Guyett
(Reuters) - The Indiana state Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to a new law allowing workers at unionized businesses to avoid paying union dues, the last major legislative hurdle to making Indiana the first "right-to-work" state in the nation's manufacturing belt.
No state has approved a right-to-work law since Oklahoma a decade ago, and Indiana is being closely watched nationwide during a presidential election year. The Senate vote of 28 to 22 was followed by calls of "shame, shame" from members of the public outside the chamber.
Governor Mitch Daniels will likely sign the bill Wednesday. The measure was given preliminary approval by both chambers of the Republican-majority Indiana legislature last month.
Supporters of right-to-work, led by the state's Republican governor, say it is needed to bring business and jobs to the state. Opponents call it "union busting" and say it will lower the wages of workers.
"For me it's all about jobs," said Republican Senator Carlin Yoder, the bill's main sponsor.
He said the bill won't prevent anyone from joining a union. "It is simply allowing those individuals to decide for themselves if they want to pay union dues or not," Yoder said during the floor debate Wednesday.
Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson, a Democrat, called the notion that many employers will be attracted to Indiana because of the law a "myth."
"Right-to work is a race to the bottom, it's a downward spiral to lower wages and fewer benefits," Simpson said.
Governor Daniels, who considered running for president last year and gave the Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union message last Tuesday, has made passage of right-to-work one of his priorities for this year.
Indiana would join 22 other states with right-to-work laws, most of them in the South and West. Indiana's action could encourage other states to pass similar laws.
Democrats and their union supporters tried to slow the bill by boycotting the legislature and other delaying tactics, but Republicans supportive of right-to-work control both chambers of the legislature and the governor's office.
Organized labor could be a significant issue during the 2012 election year. In addition to the Indiana action, Democrats and unions are hoping to recall Wisconsin's Republican Governor Scott Walker after he championed a new law that severely restricted collective bargaining powers of public sector unions in the state.
Ohio turned back similar attempts to curb public sector unions last year, voting in a state referendum against the proposal.
(Reporting by Susan Guyett,; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Paul Thomasch)