By Susan Guyett
INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - The Indiana state Senate on Monday approved a controversial measure that would make it the first right-to-work state in the traditional manufacturing heartland of the country.
The Republican-led Senate voted 28 to 22 in favor of the right-to-work legislation after two hours of debate, with nine of the majority Republicans voting against.
The measure still must clear the Republican-majority House of Representatives, where Democrats have been using stalling tactics to prevent a vote.
Under the proposed Indiana law, employees at unionized private businesses would not have to pay union dues. Such statutes are enforced in 22 states, mostly in the South and West.
If the law goes into force, Indiana would become the first right-to-work state in the area considered the country's traditional manufacturing belt. The manufacturing belt of the Midwest and mid-Atlantic states is now sometimes dubbed the rust belt because of the large number of plant closures.
Attempts to amend the state Senate legislation last week failed, including a move to put the question before voters in a November referendum.
Supporters of right-to-work said it would allow businesses to be more flexible and attract jobs to the state. Opponents call it "union busting" and an attempt to diminish the coffers of unions traditionally supportive of Democrats.
"This so-called right to work bill is not conferring any rights to a job on anybody," said Democratic Senate leader Vi Simpson.
She said it would hurt workers because it would lead to lower wages.
The state House of Representatives discussed amendments to its right to work bill on Monday but has yet to take a final vote.
Indiana's Republican Governor Mitch Daniels, who will give the Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday, has said the right-to-work legislation is a top priority for this year's Indiana legislative session.
(Reporting By Susan Guyett; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Greg McCune)