INDIANAPOLIS | The Indiana Department of Labor no longer is enforcing the state's right-to-work law that two Lake County judges ruled unconstitutional, but Gov. Mike Pence believes it's only a matter of time before the labor law is back on the books.
"We really do believe, given other court decisions, that Indiana's right-to-work law is on a solid constitutional and legal foundation," Pence said. "We continue to support efforts to defend that law."
The Republican said Friday similar laws in other states have survived court challenges and he expects the Indiana Supreme Court will overrule the Lake County judges and conclude the Hoosier law also is valid.
However, Pence dodged when pressed to explain why other states' right-to-work rulings are relevant when Lake Superior Judge John Sedia and Lake Circuit Judge George Paras both found Indiana's right-to-work law violates the Indiana Constitution.
"That's a really good question for the attorney general and for the lawyers," Pence said. "What I can tell you is that we're very confident that the right-to-work law that was passed in Indiana just a few years back is on a solid legal and constitutional foundation."
The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Sept. 4 in the state's appeal of Sedia's 2013 ruling that found the right-to-work law -- which requires unions provide bargaining and grievance services free to nonmembers employed at a unionized workplace -- violates the state constitution's guarantee of compensation for services.
That hearing could be postponed if the high court decides to consolidate the right-to-work challenges brought by the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150, and United Steelworkers, which represents more than 5,000 steel mill employees in Northwest Indiana.
Either way, the Indiana Department of Labor halted enforcement of the right-to-work law July 17 after Paras ruled it unconstitutional. Unlike Sedia, last week Paras refused to stay his ruling pending appeal.
Sixteen complaints alleging right-to-work violations have been filed with the state labor agency since the law took effect in 2012, according to spokesman Bob Dittmer.
Officials concluded 13 of the complaints were unfounded, mostly former union members who quit their union but failed to tell their employer to stop deducting union dues from their paychecks. The three other complaints were pending when the law was suspended but are expected to similarly be dismissed, Dittmer said.
Pence suggested the operation of the right-to-work law is less important than the message that Indiana is a right-to-work state.
"There's no question that Indiana's economy is on the move and our willingness to recognize economic freedom in the workplace and the ability of an individual to choose whether or not they join a union is a part of a success story in Indiana that we want to continue to advance," Pence said.
He insisted the state's commerce agency, known as the Indiana Economic Development Corp., still will promote Indiana as though the right-to-work law remains in effect.
"Indiana is a right-to-work state, and we're going to continue to work to advance that in our state even while this is a matter that's moving through the courts," Pence said.