The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, September 20, 2013

Indiana circuit judge tosses state right-to-work laws

By The Building Tradesman

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

(PAI) – An Indiana circuit court judge tossed out the state’s new, controversial “right to work” law, agreeing with the Operating Engineers that it violates the state’s constitution.

The Sept. 10 announcement by national Operating Engineers President James Callahan, in the middle of the AFL-CIO Convention in Los Angeles, brought a rousing cheer from the delegates and guests there.

Indiana’s law was one of a host of anti-worker Radical Right initiatives business and its GOP handmaidens pushed through various states after the 2010 electoral sweep.  Michigan’s GOP legislature and governor pushed through a RTW law in a lame-duck session late last year.  And GOP Missouri lawmakers are pushing it, too.

The catch in Indiana, explained Operating Engineers Local 150 spokesman Ed Maher, is a state constitution provision that says “particular services shall not be taken without just compensation.” The ruling won’t have any affect on Michigan’s RTW law.

RTW laws make paying union dues optional for workers whom unions represent – but the unions must represent them in grievances, bargaining, legislation and more.  RTW laws produce millions of “free riders” and rob unions of money for representation.  That’s why they’re a favorite business cause.

Lake County (Gary) Superior Court Judge John Sedia ruled Indiana’s RTW law creates “a criminal offense for a union to receive just compensation for particular services federal law demands it provide to employees.” He said “the court therefore has no choice but to find” RTW “violates Article 1, Section 21 of the Indiana Constitution.”

“This is a victory for the middle class,” said Local 150 president-business manager James Sweeney.  “These laws are nothing but thinly-veiled tools to weaken unions, and this is a big win for workers who rely on unions to provide decent wages and benefits.  We pledged on the day that this law was passed that they hadn’t seen the last of us, and we are delighted with this ruling.”

Maher said the Indiana constitution’s provision is unique, and enforcing right-to-work produced a head-on collision between the state law and the state’s basic charter, though federal labor law lets states enact such RTW statutes.  For now, the constitution won, but the case will be appealed by the state.

The union challenged five statutes overall, but lost on the other four.  “But we were delighted” by Sedia’s ruling, Maher said.  “It’s like buying five lottery tickets, and winning one.”  Sedia’s ruling now goes directly to the state Supreme Court for review.