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COA reinstates right-to-work case, says federal law preempts state claims

March 23, 2017

Although former members of a Fort Wayne union did make a claim upon which relief can be granted after their former union continued to take dues from their checks without their consent, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that federal labor law is preemptive in the state court case.

After receiving an employment offer with a sister company of Speedway Redi Mix Inc. that included higher pay and benefits, a group of concrete truck drivers left their jobs at SRM, withdrew from their union, Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers Local Union No. 414, and began performing the same work for the sister company. However, after a series of unfair labor practice complaints, a settlement agreement called for the drivers to be fired from their new jobs and rehired by SRM. The drivers, however, did not rejoin Local 414.

When the drivers returned, SRM resumed withholding union dues from their paychecks. The drivers objected to this practice and eventually filed a complaint in November 2015, alleging that Local 414 was violating Indiana’s right-to-work law by compelling them to remain members and pay dues, pursuant to the doctrine of money had and received.

The union moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim and lack of subject matter jurisdiction caused by federal preemption. The Allen Superior Court dismissed the complaint, finding that the right-to-work law rendered a union security clause in their collective bargaining agreement inoperative. The trial court also found that the drivers’ dues checkoff cards were still in effect, thus allowing SRM to continue withholding union dues, and that federal law preempted the unlawful collection and retention claims.

The case was heard by the Indiana Court of Appeals in early March, and the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of the drivers’ case in a  Thursday opinion.

Judge Cale Bradford, writing for the unanimous panel, said the plain language of the right-to-work law “is not limited to the use of union security provisions … but, instead, covers all employer-union acts that compel union membership.” Thus, the fact that the right-to-work law has voided the union security clause in the CBA language does not defeat the drivers’ claim on a Trial Rule 12(B)(6) motion, Bradford wrote.

However, the appellate panel agreed with Local 414 and SRM that federal labor law preempts state law in relation to dues checkoffs.

“The Drivers contend that federal law is clear that when an employee who has executed a dues checkoff authorization leaves an employer, the authorization is void and without effect if the employee later returns,” Bradford wrote. “Even if this is true, our hands are tied; the validity of a dues checkoff authorization is a matter of federal law… .”

The appellate panel remanded the case of John E. Warner, Jr.; Rick Clay; Sam Early; Brian Goeglein; Mike Campbell; Brad Wilson; and John Zimmerman v. Chauffeurs, Teamsters, and Helpers Local Union No. 414 and Speedway Redi Mix, Inc., 02A04-1608-PL-2017, for proceedings consistent with its opinion.
 

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