Until recently, Indiana was known as a “right-to-work” state. “Right-to-work” does not mean that all willing and able-bodied people have the right to a job. Rather, it means that employees who are not part of unions should be able to enjoy the benefits that union employees won through collective bargaining — without having to pay union dues or be bound by the collective bargaining agreement like union employees. “Right-to-work” is designed to weaken unions’ power, on the basis that fewer employees will want to join a union if they can get the same benefits without any sacrifices. Twenty-four states have enacted “right-to-work” legislation, including Indiana in February 2012.
However, recently a Lake County Superior Court judge ruled that Indiana’s “right-to-work” law was unconstitutional. Judge John Sedia stated that the reason was because Indiana’s constitution calls for just compensation for services. Permitting non-union members to enjoy the benefits of union victories was not just compensation.
The case against Indiana’s “right-to-work” law was originally filed in February 2013 on behalf of members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 AFL-CIO. It was not the first time that unions challenged the law after Indiana became the twenty-third “right-to-work” state. The ones who brought the most recent case had previously brought the case in federal court, claiming that the “right-to-work” law violated the United States Constitution and the state constitution. However, the federal court dismissed it without prejudice, claiming that the case should be brought in state court.
The Lake County judge will not have the last word on the subject. Indiana’s Attorney General’s office has said that it intends to appeal the ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court. Yet for now, the International Union of Operating Engineers, representing 4,000 workers in northwest Indiana, was satisfied with the ruling.
The “right-to-work” movement began with the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which was a direct reaction to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. The Taft-Hartley Act outlawed the “closed shop” workplaces permitted by the NLRA, where anyone newly hired must join the union if the workplace was unionized. Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act permitted individual states to likewise outlaw “closed shop” workplaces. As a result, union membership has been declining steadily over the past several decades, to 35.9% in the public sector and just 6.6% in the private sector. That is unfortunate, as historically unions have provided workers with a much-needed counter balance to powerful employers. In the past several years, more efforts have arisen to fight “right-to-work” laws and build union membership numbers. In the meantime, those whose employers have violated their rights under the collective bargaining agreement should consult an experienced Indiana labor law attorney.
Miller & Falkner is a plaintiffs law firm serving residents of Kentucky and Indiana. Located in Louisville, Kentucky, the firm provides representation in the areas of personal injury and employment law. Contact us today for a free consultation.