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Indiana’s Right-to-Work Law Violates State Constitution

By Joanne Deschenaux  9/11/2013
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Indiana’s right-to-work law has been ruled unconstitutional by a state trial court judge.

Lake Superior Court Civil Division Judge John Sedia issued the ruling Sept. 5, 2013, in a lawsuit brought by Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers and several of its individual members, including its president, James M. Sweeney (Sweeney v. Zoeller, 45D01-1305-PL-52).

Enacted in 2012 by former Gov. Mitch Daniels, the measure made it a misdemeanor to require a worker to pay fees, assessments or other charges to a union or third party to get or keep a job.

The union lawsuit had alleged the law was unconstitutional for five reasons, but the judge agreed with only one: that by preventing the union from collecting fees from nonunion members to cover the cost of bargaining and other services, the law violated the Indiana Constitution.

Under federal law unions are obligated to represent workers in their bargaining units, even those who aren’t dues-paying members, Sedia wrote.

“Put simply,” he said, the state law means that “it becomes a criminal offense for a union to receive just compensation for particular services federal law demands it provide to employees.”

The judge delayed enforcement of his ruling during an appeal.

A spokesman for State Attorney General Greg Zoeller said the AG’s office will seek to reverse the ruling.

“The state will take an immediate appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court of this declaratory judgment, which we contend is incorrect,” spokesman Bryan Corbin said in a statement.

“This is a huge victory for the middle class,” Sweeney said in a statement posted on the union’s website. “These laws are nothing but thinly veiled tools to weaken unions, and this is a big win for workers who rely on unions to provide decent wages and benefits.” The union is based in Countryside, Ill.

Daniels, a Republican, signed the law on Feb. 1, 2012, after it passed the state Senate on a 28-22 vote, making Indiana the 23rd state to enact such legislation.

“This law won’t be a magic answer, but we’ll be far better off with it,” Daniels said then. “No one’s wages will go down, no one’s benefits will be reduced, and the right to organize and bargain collectively is untouched and intact.”

Joanne Deschenaux, J.D., is SHRM’s senior legal editor.  

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