Judge dismisses federal right-to-work challenge

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A U.S. District judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed in Hammond by a labor union challenging the state’s right-to-work law for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Chief Judge Philip P. Simon in the Northern District of Indiana did allow two counts claiming the law violates the Indiana Constitution to proceed in state court.

Simon handed down his ruling Thursday in James M. Sweeney, et al. v. Mitch Daniels, et al., 2:12-CV-PPS/PRC, the suit filed by the Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers and several of its officers and members after Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the right-to-work legislation into law Feb. 1, 2012.

The law prevents forced union membership and union security clauses.

The lawsuit challenges the new law under the Contracts Clause, Ex Post Facto Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and preemption claims, and alleges the law violates the state constitution.

Simon found that Section 3 – which says nothing in the law changes or effects “any law concerning” collective bargaining in the building and construction industry other than a law that allows agreements requiring union member or payments of dues to a union or substitute payments to charities – is not a substantive provision and not retroactive.

“Because there exists a plausible public policy reason for enacting the Right to Work statute based on economic theories which the legislators may have believed to be true, and the relationship of that rationale to the legislation is not arbitrary or irrational, the Equal Protection challenge fails,” he wrote.

Simon found the union’s preemption challenges to the law and the Emergency Rule all run “headlong” into Retail Clerks Int’l Ass’n, Local 1625 v. Schermerhorn, 375  U.S. 96, 102 (1963) (Retail Clerks II), and should be dismissed.

Counts 8 and 9, which claim the right-to-work law violates various provisions of the Indiana Constitution, were dismissed without prejudice to allow them to proceed in state court.

“For better or worse, the political branches of government make policy judgments. The electorate can ultimately decide whether those judgments are sound, wise and constitute good governance, and then can express their opinions at the polls and by other means. But those are questions beyond the reach of the federal court, which instead is limited to analysis of particular legal arguments that the challenged legislation runs afoul of preemptive federal labor law or the U.S. Constitution. None of the legal challenges launched by the Union here to attack Indiana’s new Right to Work law can succeed,” Simon summarized.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller released a statement Thursday after the ruling, saying, “The federal court’s decision supports the legal authority and policy decisions of the people’s elected representatives in the Legislature, and we appreciate the court’s thorough analysis. My office will continue to defend the statute from legal challenge or appeal in any future court action.”

In October 2012, Lake Circuit Judge George Paras allowed a challenge to the law filed in state court to proceed. That case, United Steel v. Lori Torres, et al., 45C01-1207-PL-71, has a status hearing set for Jan. 29.  



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