Lake County judge strikes down provision in Indiana’s right-to-work law

Marilyn Odendahl
September 10, 2013
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In a ruling that never used the popular term “right-to-work,” Lake Superior Court Judge John Sedia found a provision in Indiana’s 2012 labor law violated the state constitution’s ban on demanding services without just compensation.

Sedia dismissed four counts of the original complaint brought by the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150, and other plaintiffs. After an in-depth examination of state law, federal law, court precedent and the Indiana Constitution, however, he held that the section of the right-to-work law which requires unions to provide services at no cost to non-union employees to be unconstitutional.

“There is no Court which is more loathe to declare any state statute unconstitutional than this one,” Sedia wrote in his order issued Sept. 5. “(Indiana Code) 22-6-6-8 and IC 22-6-6-10 stand clothed with the presumption of constitutionality. Debate regarding the wisdom or folly of this statute (about which the Court has purposely avoided using its title) lies in the political arena, not with the courts.”

Sedia entered a declaratory judgment that IC 22-6-6-8, which prohibits an individual from being required to join a labor organization and pay dues, fees or other charges, and IC 22-6-6-10, which makes forcing employees to pay union dues a Class A misdemeanor, violate Article I, Section 21 of the Indiana Constitution.

The Indiana Attorney General’s office, calling Sedia’s ruling incorrect, stated that it immediately would file an appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court.

Bryan Corbin, spokesman for Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, said the Zoeller “will aggressively defend the authority of the people’s elected representatives in the Legislature as we successfully defended this same statute from the same plaintiff who challenged it in federal court,”  

Democratic leaders in the Indiana House of Representatives and Indiana Senate hailed the ruling as another example of failure for the right-to-work law.

“But finally, one branch of government made sense,” House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath of Michigan City said in a statement. “Hoosiers’ middle class wages lag badly behind other Americans and one judge believes our law is not just for those with money and power.”

The law sparked fierce debates in the Indiana Statehouse during the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions. Democrats opposed the measure, staging walkouts to prevent a vote, but Republicans were able to pass the bill which former Gov. Mitch Daniels signed.

The first count of the plaintiffs’ complaint alleged the right-to-work provision that compels Local 150 to provide a particular service to the employees it represents without receiving any pay violated Article I, Section 21 of the Indiana Constitution. That section of the state constitution holds that “No person’s particular services shall be demanded without just compensation.”

Sedia pointed to Bayh v. Sonnenburg, 573 N.E. 2d 398 (Ind. 1991), for a definition of what constitutes a “demand.” Here the Indiana Justices found that “a request becomes a demand when it is backed up with the use or threatened use of physical force or legal process which creates in the citizen a reasonable belief that he is not free to refuse the request.”

He also highlighted the federal labor law which mandates unions provide services such as processing grievances and negotiating contracts on behalf of members and non-members alike.

Sedia concluded IC 22-6-6-8 and IC 22-6-6-10 criminalizes the act of a union being paid for the services the federal law demands it provides to employees.

 “…the effect of IC 22-6-6-8 and IC 22-6-6-10 under the current, long-standing federal labor law, is to demand particular services without just compensation,” he wrote. “The Court therefore has no choice but to find that IC 22-6-6-8 and IC 22-6-6-10 violate Article I, Section 21 of the Indiana Constitution.”

The five-count complaint challenging the right-to-work law on constitutional grounds was filed in Lake County on Feb. 11, 2013. Sedia dismissed the other counts, finding, under the Indiana Constitution, the right to work law did not deprive Local 150 members of equal protection, did not infringe on Local 150’s free speech rights and is not an ex post facto law.


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