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Struggles mount for labor

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(Editor's note: This story has been corrected)

Indiana this year became the 23rd state to enact a right-to-work law in which workers cannot be compelled to pay union dues. Within months, individual workers in union shops opted out, even as court challenges linger.

“Workers are starting to use it, and we are receiving calls about it,” said Anthony Riedel, deputy legal information director for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Springfield, Va.

labor-15col.jpg Groups marched in the Super Bowl Village in Indianapolis in protest of the 2012 Indiana General Assembly’s right-to-work bill. (IL Photo/ Julie Kirkendoll)

One of those first workers was Robert Symonds, a truck driver who worked at Indianapolis Haulage. Symonds sought the foundation’s assistance in his successful effort to stop paying dues to Teamsters Local 135.

“You shouldn’t have to pay union dues to get or keep a job, which is why Indiana’s new right-to-work law is right for Hoosiers everywhere,” foundation vice president Patrick Semmens said in a July 16 statement issued after the foundation intervened and the local union agreed to stop deducting dues from Symonds’ pay.

Adoption of right to work in Indiana and the recent Supreme Court decision, Knox v. SEIU, 10-1121, limiting unions’ ability to force members to pay for political activity, are the latest in a series of recent blows that observers say could stagger organized labor.

“I think it will strip a lot of the basic ability to organize,” David Gray said of Indiana’s right-to-work law. A director at Lewis & Kappes in Indianapolis, Gray said his firm traditionally has represented employers in labor disputes.

“(The law is) going to fundamentally hurt unions,” he said. “The number of union members, I think, will go down dramatically.”

The full effect of Indiana’s right-to-work law is yet to be seen. Workers cannot opt to stop paying dues until contracts that currently cover them expire. And state agencies are still drawing rules governing how workers may go about removing themselves from union membership.

Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, the Willard and Margaret Carr Professor of Labor and Employment Law at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, said Knox won’t have much impact on Indiana because it deals with special assessments on a class of workers covered by union security clauses, which are being phased out under right to work.

But, he said, Knox is the latest in a line of labor rulings that endangers the right to organize because it prevents unions from collecting money for political speech. In contrast, he said the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling holds that any restrictions on individual and corporate political spending would violate the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.

“You can argue that this is the biggest power grab by the upper class since the Gilded Age of the 1890s,” Dau-Schmidt said of the disparate rulings in Knox and Citizens United. “It will have an effect on our democracy.”

Right to work rules

The divisive battle in the General Assembly over right to work ended with its passage and Gov. Mitch Daniels’ signature on the bill in February. Months later, how to enforce the law is still being worked out.

“It’s not complete,” Indiana Department of Labor spokesman Bob Dittmer said of the rulemaking process for enforcing the law. He said the Department of Labor will finish promulgating its rules in about the middle of this month, after which the rules will be reviewed by the attorney general and governor. They then will be published and finalized, probably by Oct. 1, he said.

As of late July, Dittmer said the labor department received no formal right-to-work complaints.

“We did hold a public hearing and had input from a number of different elements,” he said, noting representatives from labor, business and legal interests were among those who overflowed a state office meeting room on July 10. Comments on proposed rules were taken through July 16.

Under the statute, a right-to-work complaint may be filed with the Department of Labor, the attorney general’s office or a local prosecutor. Right-to-work actions also may be filed in court. Dittmer said that complaints filed in other state offices will be handled by the Department of Labor.

Under emergency rules that were passed when the right-to-work law was enacted, workers may not exercise the ability to forgo union representation or stop paying dues until a contract expires. The law does not cover public employees or those subject to the Railway Labor Act.

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, 333,000 Hoosiers – about 12.4 percent of the workforce – were represented by unions in 2011. That’s a slight increase over the past two years, but about half the percentage of those represented by unions in 1989.

Who pays dues?

Under the right-to-work law, no one may be compelled to be a member of a union or pay dues for political activity or for general membership representation.

That’s a violation of the state constitution, argues Jim Robinson, director for United Steelworkers Region 7, which represents members in Indiana and Illinois. The steelworkers union is plaintiff in a lawsuit in Lake Superior Court that alleges right to work violates a section of the state constitution that says “No person’s particular services shall be demanded, without just compensation.”

Robinson and others said the argument is that unions still are legally required to provide services to workers they represent, whether or not those workers are dues-paying members.

“The right to freeload has been around since the ’50s” as a matter of federal labor law, Robinson said. “But the Indiana constitutional issue is unique to Indiana, and we think it’s a good case.”

Robinson said the state has filed a motion to dismiss in the case, United Steelworkers, et al. v. Mitch Daniels, et al., 45D01-1203-PL-19, and a ruling is expected at any time.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation also intervened in that case, filing an amicus brief on behalf of two steelworkers who said forced payment of dues violates their First Amendment right of freedom of speech. The foundation says claims in the Lake County case are spurious.

Another case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana in Hammond – James L. Sweeney, et al. v. Mitch Daniels, et al., 2:12-CV-81– is awaiting ruling on the state’s motion to dismiss. That right-to-work challenge involves the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150.

Ann DeLaney, former Indiana Democratic Party chair and co-founder of the law firm DeLaney & DeLaney LLC, said right to work means “there’s going to be fewer members who want to contribute.”

“It’s human nature – if you can get a free ride, you’re going to take it,” she said.

She sees a pattern in recent Supreme Court decisions and the push for right to work. “They want to restrict the power of the union to get their message out,” she said.

Nancy Guyott, president of Indiana’s AFL-CIO chapter that represents about 800 union locals, said the Knox case represents a double-standard for unions compared with unlimited corporate political spending allowed in Citizens United.

“The court went out of its way to make statements that were not at issue” in Knox, said Guyott, who is an attorney but does not practice currently. “Those statements encouraged limitations on the right of workers to collectively speak in politics.”•

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  1. Falk said “At this point, at this minute, we’ll savor this particular victory.” “It certainly is a historic week on this front,” Cockrum said. “What a delight ... “Happy Independence Day to the women of the state of Indiana,” WOW. So we broke with England for the right to "off" our preborn progeny at will, and allow the processing plant doing the dirty deeds (dirt cheap) to profit on the marketing of those "products of conception." I was completely maleducated on our nation's founding, it would seem. (But I know the ACLU is hard at work to remedy that, too.)

  2. congratulations on such balanced journalism; I also love how fetus disposal affects women's health protection, as covered by Roe...

  3. It truly sickens me every time a case is compared to mine. The Indiana Supreme Court upheld my convictions based on a finding of “hidden threats.” The term “hidden threat” never appeared until the opinion in Brewington so I had no way of knowing I was on trial for making hidden threats because Dearborn County Prosecutor F Aaron Negangard argued the First Amendment didn't protect lies. Negangard convened a grand jury to investigate me for making “over the top” and “unsubstantiated” statements about court officials, not hidden threats of violence. My indictments and convictions were so vague, the Indiana Court of Appeals made no mention of hidden threats when they upheld my convictions. Despite my public defender’s closing arguments stating he was unsure of exactly what conduct the prosecution deemed to be unlawful, Rush found that my lawyer’s trial strategy waived my right to the fundamental error of being tried for criminal defamation because my lawyer employed a strategy that attempted to take advantage of Negangard's unconstitutional criminal defamation prosecution against me. Rush’s opinion stated the prosecution argued two grounds for conviction one constitutional and one not, however the constitutional true threat “argument” consistently of only a blanket reading of subsection 1 of the intimidation statute during closing arguments, making it impossible to build any kind of defense. Of course intent was impossible for my attorney to argue because my attorney, Rush County Chief Public Defender Bryan Barrett refused to meet with me prior to trial. The record is littered with examples of where I made my concerns known to the trial judge that I didn’t know the charges against me, I did not have access to evidence, all while my public defender refused to meet with me. Special Judge Brian Hill, from Rush Superior Court, refused to address the issue with my public defender and marched me to trial without access to evidence or an understanding of the indictments against me. Just recently the Indiana Public Access Counselor found that four over four years Judge Hill has erroneously denied access to the grand jury audio from my case, the most likely reason being the transcription of the grand jury proceedings omitted portions of the official audio record. The bottom line is any intimidation case involves an action or statement that is debatably a threat of physical violence. There were no such statements in my case. The Indiana Supreme Court took partial statements I made over a period of 41 months and literally connected them with dots… to give the appearance that the statements were made within the same timeframe and then claimed a person similarly situated would find the statements intimidating while intentionally leaving out surrounding contextual factors. Even holding the similarly situated test was to be used in my case, the prosecution argued that the only intent of my public writings was to subject the “victims” to ridicule and hatred so a similarly situated jury instruction wouldn't even have applied in my case. Chief Justice Rush wrote the opinion while Rush continued to sit on a committee with one of the alleged victims in my trial and one of the judges in my divorce, just as she'd done for the previous 7+ years. All of this information, including the recent PAC opinion against the Dearborn Superior Court II can be found on my blog www.danbrewington.blogspot.com.

  4. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

  5. It was mentioned in the article that there have been numerous CLE events to train attorneys on e-filing. I would like someone to provide a list of those events, because I have not seen any such events in east central Indiana, and since Hamilton County is one of the counties where e-filing is mandatory, one would expect some instruction in this area. Come on, people, give some instruction, not just applause!

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