Judge declares Indiana right to work law unconstitutional–again

For the second time, an Indiana judge has ruled that the state’s so-called right to work law violates the state’s Constitution.

Lake County Judge George Paras ruled that the state’s right to work law is null and void because it exempts non-union workers from paying for services that unions are required to provide them.

The law, which Indiana enacted in 2012, “eviscerates the basic right that a person be compensated for the good and valuable services that a person provides in commercial endeavors,” wrote Paras in his decision.

In 2012, Indiana joined a list of states that passed or tried to pass right to work laws; lawmakers were encouraged to pass these laws by right wing and business groups that wanted to make it harder for workers to win decent pay raises, protect their benefits, and have a voice on the job.

“These anti-union, right to work for less laws are no more than an effort by corporations and their friends in the legislature to help the rich get richer,” said Michael Milsap, director United Steelworkers (USW) District 7. “They are meant to weaken the voices and rights of workers by forcing their unions to work for free.”

USW District 7 represents about 5,000 workers in Northwest Indiana where Lake County is located. In 2012, USW joined other labor unions to oppose the passage of the law. After the law was enacted, USW challenged the law in court.

Judge Paras agreed with USW’s argument that the law violated Article 1, Section 21 of the Indiana Constitution, which states that, “No person’s particular services should be demanded without just compensation.”

USW attorneys argued that the 2012 law deprived unions of just compensation for providing services such as negotiating a collective bargaining contract, handling grievances, and enforcing safety standards.

When a union is recognized as the collective bargaining representative of a group of workers, unions are required by federal law to provide services to all workers regardless of whether they are union members.

Allowing those who benefit from the services to receive them for free provides an incentive not to pay dues or other fees in lieu of dues.

In 2013, Judge John Sedia in Hammond, Indiana ruled similarly that the 2012 law was unconstitutional because it deprived unions of compensation for services provided.

The Indiana Supreme Court will hear arguments on Judge Sedia’s ruling on September 4.

Judge Sedia’s ruling came after the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 sued to stop the enforcement of the law.

James M. Sweeney, Local 150’s business agent and president, issued a statement after Judge Paras’ ruling agreed with Judge Sedia’s.

“We applaud the decision of the Court and congratulate the Steelworkers on successfully dealing another blow to Indiana’s ill-conceived right to work law,” said Sweeney.

Indiana was one of several Midwest states that sought to make it harder for workers to take collective action to improve their wages and benefits and protect their jobs by passing right to work laws. These laws came into being in the 1940s when union power was growing, and employers were seeking ways to weaken unions.

Indiana in 1957 passed a right to work law, but the law was so unpopular that some lawmakers who supported it were voted out of office, and in 1965 the law was repealed.

The law began to make its comeback in 2011 when anti-worker Republicans took control of state legislatures and governors’ offices. The right to work revival was fanned by right wing groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, the National Right to Work Committee, and the Chamber of Commerce.

While groups that support right to work legislation characterize it as a law that gives workers the right to choose whether they support a union, the real purpose is to reduce unions’ financial support and thus make collective action more difficult. Making collective action more difficult lowers the cost of labor.

And that’s been the effect of right to work laws where they have been implemented.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, a research and policy organization that receives money from labor unions, the annual salary for workers in right to work states is $1,540 less than workers in non-right to work states.

Workers in right to work states are also less likely to have employee sponsored health insurance. Right to work states also have a 36 percent higher rate of on-the-job deaths than non-right to work states.

In addition to declaring the Indiana law null and void, Judge Paras’ ruling also bars the states from enforcing the law.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has said that he will appeal the judge’s ruling and will ask the state Supreme Court to allow the state to continue enforcing the law pending appeal.

Milsap said that instead of trying to prop up a law that unjustly punishes working people, the state’s politicians should change their focus.

“Our politicians should be striving to create jobs and make life better for all working people – not attacking them with wrong-headed and unconstitutional laws like this (right to work law),” said Milsap.

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