Indiana’s Attorney General Greg Zoeller has requested that the Indiana Supreme Court reverse a trial court decision that nullified part of the state’s right-to-work law. Zoeller also requested that the Indiana Supreme Court affirm the Lake County Superior Court’s rulings on three other grounds that did not involve constitutional questions.
“Right-to-work” does not refer to whether all able-bodied people have the right to a job. Instead, “right-to-work” laws allow employees who are not part of unions to 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” laws are typically meant 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, in September 2013, a Lake County Superior Court judge found that the “right-to-work” law was unconstitutional. The case began in February 2013, when it was filed on behalf of members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 AFL-CIO. The case had originally been brought in federal court, with the instigators claiming that the “right-to-work” law violated the United States Constitution and the state constitution. The federal court dismissed it on the grounds that the case should be brought in state court. After the case was filed in state court, the Lake County Superior Court judge found the law to be unconstitutional because the Indiana constitution called for just compensation for services, and permitting non-union members to enjoy the benefits of union victories was not just compensation.
The judge also made findings that Zoeller wanted affirmed. These included findings that the “right-to-work” law did not violate equal protection rights or infringe upon freedom of speech, and also that the law did not apply retroactively. The judge also left the state’s “right-to-work” law in effect until the case was heard by the Indiana Supreme Court. The Supreme Court automatically hears any appeal from a trial court when a law is struck down due to constitutionality.
The Supreme Court is currently reviewing written arguments over whether the Lake County Superior Court judge ruled properly. Zoeller submitted a 61-page filing claiming that the “right-to-work” law should be restored because the state was not “compelling exclusive-agency unions to provide bargaining services to nonmembers.” Rather, the law merely gives employees the choice of whether to join a union and pay union dues, which was authorized by federal law. If unions did not want to represent non-union members, they could organize as members-only groups. Unfortunately, what Zoeller fails to account for is that employers are not required to bargain with members-only unions the way they are with unions that represent union and non-union members alike. As a result, members-only unions are rarely formed.
The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 has until February 12 to file a response to Zoeller’s claims. Then oral arguments before the Supreme Court will take place. Either way, the decision will have a major impact on Indiana unions and workers’ right to organize. 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.