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Labor union suing over Indiana's new right-to-work law

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Feb 23, 2012


HAMMOND, Ind. (Legal Newsline) - A labor union is suing the State of Indiana in federal court over a new right-to-work law.

House Enrolled Act 1001, which was signed into law by Gov. Mitch Daniels earlier this month, bans unions from collecting mandatory fees for representation.

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, along with president-business manager James M. Sweeney, financial secretary David A. Fagan and Local 150 members Charles Severs, James C. Oliver, Bryan Scofield and Earl Click Jr., filed their lawsuit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana.

The named defendants are Daniels, Attorney General Greg Zoeller and Lori Torres, commissioner of the state Department of Labor.

According to their 29-page complaint, the plaintiffs allege 10 separate counts against the State.

Among those, they contend the law violates the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"On the date that the Indiana right-to-work law was signed, Local 150 had and still has collective bargaining agreements in effect with building and construction industry employers in Indiana. Most if not all of those contracts contain union security clauses and/or other provisions that require payment of the fees, assessments or other equivalent charges to Local 150," they wrote.

In general, union security clauses require all employees covered by any given agreement as a condition of employment either to apply for and become a member, and to maintain membership in, or alternatively to apply for a permit and pay permit fees to, the union within 31 days of their date of hire, or eight days in the case of construction employees.

Federal law has interpreted these clauses not to require membership in the union literally. Instead, at his or her sole option, an employee may refuse to join the union but may be required to pay his or her "fair share" of the cost of negotiation and administration of the contract.

"The immediate application of the Indiana right-to-work law to these existing contracts substantially impairs the contractual relationships that Local 150 has with these building and construction industry employers," the union wrote in its complaint.

"The State has no significant or legitimate purpose for the immediate application of this regulation to the building and construction industry as opposed to other industries, and without any such purpose, the law is neither reasonable nor appropriate."

The plaintiffs also contend the new law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, that the federal National Labor Relations Act preempts the state law, and that it violates the state constitution.

A lawyer for the labor union told The Associated Press on Thursday that the union would file a motion seeking a temporary restraining order to block to the law for 10 days until a judge could decide the matter.

Daniels, who signed HEA 1001 into law Feb. 1, admitted at the time that the new statute wouldn't be the answer.

"Seven years of evidence and experience ultimately demonstrated that Indiana did need a right-to-work law to capture jobs for which, despite our highly rated business climate, we are not currently being considered," he said in a statement.

"This law won't be a magic answer but we'll be far better off with it. I respect those who have objected but they have alarmed themselves unnecessarily: no one's wages will go down, no one's benefits will be reduced, and the right to organize and bargain collectively is untouched and intact.

The only change, the governor said, will be a positive one.

"Indiana will improve still further its recently earned reputation as one of America's best places to do business, and we will see more jobs and opportunity for our young people and for all those looking for a better life," Daniels said.

On Wednesday, Zoeller said he will defend the new law in the legal challenge filed by the labor union although his office had yet to be served with the lawsuit.

"Legal challenges are part of the process to test whether laws are constitutional," he said in a statement.

"Though we respect the right of private plaintiffs to disagree with this new law, the State's position is that the Legislature was within its authority to create a new policy concerning mandatory union dues.

"My office's duty is to defend the laws the Legislature passes, and we will do so diligently here."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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