Chesterton Tribune

Local 150 seeks to nullify 'right to work' law in federal lawsuit

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The International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150, is seeking to nullify the State of Indiana’s recently passed “right to work” statute (RTW), in a suit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, on the ground that RTW violates both state and federal law.

The suit names as defendants Gov. Mitch Daniels, Indiana Attorney General Gregory Zoeller, and Indiana Department of Labor Commissioner Lori Torres; as plaintiffs, two elected officers of Local 150, four rank-and-file members, and the local itself.

Pending a ruling on the suit, Local 150 is seeking a temporary restraining order against RTW, whose “glaring violations and contradictions of existing law,” the local said in a statement released after deadline on Thursday, “are likely the result of the often cited rush to pass the legislation as quickly as possible.”

Among the suit’s allegations:

•RTW violates the “contracts clause” of Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution in that it substantially impairs contractual relationships by forbidding longstanding union security clauses and payment of fees in exchange for representation.

•RTW violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s “equal protection” clause by treating similar classes of workers differently.

•By allowing workers to opt out of paying dues, dues-paying members would bear the entire cost of providing representation, and a smaller amount of their payment would be available for use representing them.

•By forbidding public works employees from opting out of membership or payment of dues or fees, the State of Indiana requires those workers to bear an increased burden of paying for services rendered to workers given the option not to pay dues or fees.

•By allowing Local 150 to charge fees to construction workers but not workers in other industries, the State of Indiana fails to provide equal protection.

•RTW violates Article 1, Section 21 of the Indiana Constitution, which states that “no person’s particular services shall be taken by law without just compensation.” By forcing unions to provide equal representation, as required under the National Labor Relations Act, to workers who pay nothing, the state is demanding services which constitute a property interest to the union’s members.

•RTW is pre-empted by federal labor law insofar as federal law allows unions to collect fees and that activity protected by the National Labor Relations Act is criminalized under RTW.

•RTW violates state and federal ex post facto laws by declaring agreements in place on the day RTW was signed illegal and criminally punishable.

On several counts, Local 150 is requesting that applicable sections be invalidated, and because the statute was passed without a “severability clause,” the local notes, if any one part of the statute is ruled invalid, the entire law may be invalidated.

“Indiana legislators picked a fight with the middle class when they introduced this law, and when workers are attacked, we fight back,” Local 150 President-Business Manager James M. Sweeney said. “Aside from being intrusive government and bad public policy, this so-called ‘right to work’ legislation repeatedly violates two constitutions and nearly a century of federal labor law. It discriminates among groups of workers and mandates private businesses to provide service without compensation. This law is an example of government gone wrong, and I am confident that the United States District Court will find merit in our complaint.”

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 represents more than 23,000 working men and women (including approximately 4,000 in Indiana) working in the construction, road building, excavation, public works, drilling, concrete pumping, material testing, mining, landscaping and various other industries. Local 150’s Indiana offices are located in Merrillville and Lakeville, Indiana.

Posted 2/23/2012