Wisconsin Right-to-Work Law Upheld | U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Wisconsin Right-to-Work Law Upheld

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Photo credit: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on July 12 upheld Wisconsin’s right-to-work law known as Act 1, which was passed in 2015 over the protests of organized labor.  The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) had challenged the measure as is the norm in virtually every state where right-to-work has ever passed, but their arguments fell short, as is also the norm.

Organized labor’s hostility to right-to-work laws is certainly no secret, as these laws actually give workers the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union, something that labor leaders abhor more than just about anything.  Nevertheless, the National Labor Relations Act explicitly authorizes states to enact right-to-work legislation, and both state and federal courts have consistently upheld them.

Given the statutory provision allowing right-to-work, organized labor more recently has tried to claim that right-to-work laws deny labor organizations their rights because they force unions to represent people who do not pay dues, which unions claim violates the U.S. Constitution. 

However, as this blog noted previously, the Seventh Circuit rejected the unions’ line of argument in a 2014 decision known as Sweeney in which it upheld Indiana’s right-to-work law. In its ruling, the court observed, “the union is justly compensated by federal law’s grant to the Union the right to bargain exclusively with the employer. The reason the Union must represent all employees is that the Union alone gets a seat at the negotiation table.”  In other words, exclusive bargaining rights are of considerable value to unions, so having them provides ample compensation.                                                            

With that precedent in hand, it was hardly a surprise that a federal district court upheld Act 1 in 2016.  In that decision, the judge wrote “[t]his Court concludes, under the holding and reasoning announced by the majority in Sweeney, that Act 1: (1) is not preempted by the NLRA; and (2) does not work an unconstitutional taking.”

Similarly, the Seventh Circuit again declined to adopt organized labor’s tortured logic in its decision yesterday.  The IUOE acknowledged that the Seventh Circuit had already ruled on this issue in Sweeney but tried to convince the court that it should reverse its own precedent because one judge in that case had written a strenuous dissent and the Circuit had a close vote on whether to rehear the case en banc.  The court noted, “such facts… are not ‘compelling reasons’ to overturn a recent decision,” and concluded, “[i]n sum, IUOE does not provide any compelling reason to revisit Sweeney, and we decline to do so.”

In recent years, several states have adopted right-to-work laws, and despite repeated challenges by labor unions, courts have consistently upheld them.  Regardless of organized labor’s antipathy toward right-to-work, it is not only perfectly legal but continues to be good for workers and businesses alike.