Union loses challenge to state’s right-to-work law

November 7, 2014

The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that two sections of the state’s right-to-work law do not violate the Indiana Constitution. A union had asked a Lake County judge to declare the entire statute unconstitutional.

Plaintiffs Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, AFL-CIO, and several of its members and officers sought a declaratory judgment that the right-to-work law violates several portions of the state constitution. The state sought to dismiss the action.

Last year, Lake Superior Judge John M. Sedia sua sponte found that I.C. 22-6-6-8 and 22-6-6-10 violate Article I, Section 21 of the Indiana Constitution. The judge found that “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,” and thus violates Section 21. Sedia had stayed his ruling from taking effect, pending appeal.

The law was passed in February 2012 and took effect the following month.

I.C. 22-6-6-8 prohibits employers from requiring union membership or the payment of monies as a condition of employment; Section 10 makes the knowing or intentional violation of Section 8 a Class A misdemeanor.

In Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General and Rick J. Ruble, Commissioner of the In. Dept. of Labor v. James M. Sweeney, David A. Fagan, Charles Severs et. al.,  45S00-1309-PL-596, the state and the union disputed whether the challenged provisions of the RTW law constitute a demand by the state for particular services under Section 21. The state argues that, literally, state law has not demanded the union to do anything. The union argues that its services are indirectly demanded by the state because it is “charged with the knowledge of the existence of the federal law which requires unions to represent every individual employee fairly," and also has enforced the federal law in state courts.

“On the face of the Indiana Right to Work Law, there is no state demand for services; the law merely prohibits employers from requiring union membership or the payment of monies as a condition of employment, Justice Brent Dickson wrote. “… Article 21 requires just compensation when the state demands particular services, not when the federal government does so.”

Justice Robert Rucker concurred in result with a separate opinion, writing there may be a case that if properly presented and proven could demonstrate that a union has actually been deprived of compensation for particular services by application of the right-to-work law, so as to that union, the statute would be unconstitutional.

“However, this is not that case,” he wrote.

The same plaintiffs also filed a federal lawsuit in Hammond challenging the law. Chief Judge Philip P. Simon of the Northern District of Indiana dismissed the suit, which a split 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in September.

In July, Lake Circuit Judge George Paras struck down the RTW law, finding it is “null and void.” The United Steelworkers filed that lawsuit. The state appealed, but the Supreme Court has not yet heard arguments. The justices in August declined to consolidate the two state cases. A stay also has been issued in the United Steel case, Gregory Zoeller, et al. v. United Steel Paper, et al., 45S00-1407-PL-492.


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