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Judge Claims “Right to Work” Law Violates Indiana Constitution

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The controversial ‘Right to Work’ pushed through by the State Republicans last year suffered its first legal setback last week.

This law forbids unions from forcing employees covered by their collective agreements to pay dues or service fees to the union which negotiated and enforces the particular employment agreement.

On Thursday, Judge John Sedia, of Lake County, ruled that the law violates a provision of the state constitution. We spoke to Professor Ken Dau-Schmidt, of the Maurer School of Law here in Bloomington, who is an expert on U.S. labor law and has studied the ruling.

“They challenged the law under several constitutional provisions. They argued that it violated Equal Protections Act, that it infringed on free expression, and they also argued that it violated a provision of the Indiana constitution that prohibits requiring people to provide services without compensation. The judge ruled against all of them except the last one.” Dau-Schmidt says.

The specific provision of the constitution is meant to protect individuals from having their property seized without compensation or their labor taken without payment.

“The problem with Right To Work Laws, under our Federal Labor Law, unions are required to represent everyone in the bargain unit, whether that person is a member or not,” Dau-Schmidt says.

He also says that a union has to cover the cost of representing the workers, and that it can get expensive.

The National Labor Relations Act prohibits unions from requiring workers covered by their collective agreements to join the union or to pay the union dues.

However, it does allow unions to include clauses in the agreement allowing the union to charge these non-members to pay agency fees for union collective agreement services.

The Indiana ‘Right-to-Work’ law makes it a crime to negotiate these service agreements in the state of Indiana.

“The unions in this state are required to provide services like this and can be sued if they don’t. This state law says you don’t have to compensate them for this, and the Judge said this was a violation of Indiana’s constitution,” Dau-Schmidt says.

Judge Sedia was actually appointed by former republican governor Mitch Daniels. The office of the Indiana Attorney General has announced that it will appeal Judge Sedia’s ruling to the state supreme court. Four of the five members of this court were also Republican appointees, three of them by Daniels. Nevertheless, Professor Dau-Schmidt does not think a ruling in favor of the state is a done deal.

“I suspect this will be struck down by the Supreme Court, I can’t guarantee that. I think there will be a lot of careful consideration of this matter,” Dau-Schmidt says.
We will continue to follow this and other similar challenges to the state right-to-work law as they make their way through the courts.

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