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Right-to-work legality argued

Justices consider constitutionality

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Supreme Court justices seemed skeptical during arguments Thursday about whether the state’s right-to-work law is unconstitutional.

While Justice Steven David con­ceded that the law is anti-union, he and his colleagues said the state statute doesn’t require unions to pay for so-called “free riders.” That is a federal law.

“The remedy here is to write your congressman,” Justice Mark Massa said. “If you don’t like free riders, take it up with Congress.”

A federal court this week upheld the law un­der the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion. But Thursday’s bat­tle focused on whether it breaches the Indiana Constitution.

The case was the first appeal of two Lake County judicial rulings that found the state’s right-to-work law violates the Indiana Constitution.

Lake Superior Judge John Sedia ruled that the law violates the state’s constitutional guarantee of com­pensation for services. That’s be­cause federal law requires unions to bargain for and provide legal representation in grievance cases for nonmembers at a unionized workplace.

“The state contends that the elect­ed legislators were within their authority to craft a policy prohibiting involuntary union dues and that this statute does not violate the Indiana Constitution,” Attorney General Greg Zoeller said.

“The justices’ questioning of the lawyers today is normal and expected during an Indiana Supreme Court argument, and assists the Court in its analysis of the case.”

Indiana lawmakers passed the right-to-work law in 2012 after an in­tense battle.

The law prohibits unions and em­ployers from requiring employees who are covered by a union contract to pay representation fees.

Supporters say it is a freedom issue for workers and that businesses looking to relocate or ex­­pand have skipped over Indiana in the past because Indiana was not right-to-work.

Opponents cite stat­istics showing that wages are lower in right-to-work states, and they say the bill will weaken unions because employees will stop paying union fees and still retain the benefits.

Attorney Dale Pierson argued for the unions that state lawmakers knew the federal landscape when they passed the law, and the effect was to make unions provide uncompensated services.

But Solicitor General Thomas Fisher defended the law by saying unions chose exclusive represen­tation under the federal law and can seek to have members-only unions.

“There is a choice being made here,” he said.

Dave Fagen, financial secretary for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 in northwest Indiana, said he was impressed that someone in the public arena finally admitted the law was anti-union.

“This is not a public policy. It is a political policy,” he said.

nkelly@jg.net

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