Nov 10, 2014 - 2:30pm

Indiana Upholds Right-to-Work Law


Executive Director, Labor Policy

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An employee welds steel frames at Nexus RV in Elkhart, IN.
An employee welds steel frames at Nexus RV in Elkhart, IN. Photo Credit: Ty Wright/Bloomberg.

This post originally appeared on the Workforce Freedom Initiative's blog.

The Indiana Supreme Court upheld Thursday that state’s right-to-work law, putting an end to frivolous legal challenges that have sought to overturn it.  The ruling overturned a pair of previous rulings by Lake County judges who had declared that the right-to-work statute ran afoul of the Indiana constitution.    

The Indiana legislature first considered a right-to-work law in 2010 and ultimately passed it in 2012, making it the first Rust Belt state to do so. Since then, labor unions have fought the measure in both state and federal courts, as they typically do anywhere right-to-work laws are passed, albeit unsuccessfully

Given that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) explicitly permits states to adopt right-to-work laws, challenges in federal court generally do not go very far. Indeed, that was the case in Indiana, where the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in September upheld the law.

However, unions found more traction in state court under the theory that the Indiana constitution prohibited a right-to-work law because it forces them to represent workers who choose not to pay union dues or so-called agency fees, thereby depriving unions of “just compensation.”

In September 2013, Lake County Superior Judge John Sedia reluctantly agreed with the union argument and found the law unconstitutional.  Likewise, earlier this year Lake County Circuit Judge George Paras declared the law “null and void” and ordered the state not to enforce it. 

Given the two adverse decisions flowing out of Lake County, observers have been awaiting the Indiana Supreme Court’s inevitable opinion to settle the issue once and for all.  Yesterday’s unanimous, 5-0 decision reversed the lower court rulings against right-to-work, and rightly so. 

As noted previously, despite the state constitutional requirement that just compensation be provided for services rendered, which seems to be aimed more toward involuntary servitude, there is nothing under the law that requires unions to provide their services to anybody.  Moreover, inasmuch as non-members seemingly do not wish to associate with a union, it defies logic to conclude that they demand anything from said union, much less without compensation.  

The court similarly opined, “on the face of the Indiana Right to Work Law there is no state demand for services; the law merely prohibits employers from requiring union membership or the payment of monies as a condition of employment.”  It went on to say, “the Union's federal obligation to represent all employees in a bargaining unit is optional; it occurs only when the union elects to be the exclusive bargaining agent, for which it is justly compensated by the right to bargain exclusively with the employer.”

When it comes to right-to-work laws, unions challenge them in any venue they can, including state and federal courts. Inevitably, however, these challenges fail, as yesterday’s ruling demonstrated, which is good news for workers and employers alike. 

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About the Author

Executive Director, Labor Policy

Sean P. Redmond is Executive Director, Labor Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.