Unions reviewing possible legal challenges to right-to-work

2012-02-12T22:00:00Z 2012-02-22T18:10:07Z Unions reviewing possible legal challenges to right-to-workBy Dan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
February 12, 2012 10:00 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | Labor leaders have been quietly reviewing Indiana's new right-to-work law but are mum on whether they will go to court to try to stop the law before its main provision takes effect March 14.

"Obviously we're looking at it but we don't have plans right now," said Nancy Guyott, president of the Indiana AFL-CIO. "Our lawyers are looking at it."

The right-to-work law prohibits a company and a union from agreeing to require nonunion employees to pay fees to the union for union-provided bargaining representation and grievance services.

Nonunion employees at a union employer must continue paying union fees until their current contract expires. Contracts entered into or renewed after March 14 can no longer require the payments.

One possible avenue for a legal challenge is the Indiana Constitution's limit on legislative authority. Article 4, Section 22 of the state constitution prohibits the General Assembly from enacting "local or special laws ... relating to fees or salaries."

However, that prohibition may not apply because the fee section of the right-to-work law applies statewide.

When state Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, the sponsor of right-to-work, was told the law might be challenged in court he said, "That's nuts."

"We had a lot of good lawyers from a lot of different places all familiar with labor law look at it, and it's solid," Torr said. "I don't have any concerns whatsoever."

State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, said a legal challenge could be brought if the Indiana law conflicts with federal labor law, but she said she hasn't researched whether that's the case.

The right-to-work law, House Enrolled Act 1001, specifically states it does not apply if it conflicts with or is pre-empted by federal law.

If labor unions decide to challenge Indiana's right-to-work law, it wouldn't be the first time.

In 1959, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 697, now based in Merrillville, won a legal challenge against Indiana's 1957 right-to-work law.

That law did not specifically prohibit unions from collecting "fair share" fees as the 2012 law does, it only banned mandatory union membership as a condition of employment.

So when Hammond's Meade Electric Co. sued on behalf of its nonunion employees to stop fee payments to the electrical workers union, Lake Superior Court Judge Joseph Stodola Jr. ruled in favor of the union.

In a 4-0 decision, the Appellate Court of Indiana affirmed that ruling, saying if the legislature intended to prohibit contracts requiring nonunion employees pay fees for union services, it should have written that in the law.

Indiana's first right-to-work law was repealed by the General Assembly in 1965.

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