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Federal judge rejects Local 150s challenge of righttowork

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A U.S. District judge for the Northern District of Indiana has rejected the challenge of the state’s so-called “right-to-work” law filed last year by Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Philip P. Simon dismissed two of Local 150’s eleven counts—in which it argued that the law violates the Indiana constitution—without prejudice to their being litigated in state court; dismissed another count as moot, and then dismissed the remaining counts after finding that Local 150 had failed “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”

Simon concluded his ruling by noting that the questions raised purely by the policy of the “right-to-work” law are beyond his scope. “For better or worse, the political branches of government make policy judgments,” Simon wrote in his ruling. “The electorate can ultimately decide whether those judgments are sound, wise, and constitute good governance, and then can express their opinions at the polls and by other means. But those are questions beyond the reach of the federal court, which is limited to analysis of particular legal arguments that the challenged legislation runs afoul of preemptive federal labor law or the U.S Constitution. None of the legal challenges raised by the union here to attack Indiana’s new Right to Work law can succeed.”

Simon did suggest that the “‘Right to Work’ label has a nice sound to it but is misleading.”

“What these types of laws actually prohibit are ‘union security clauses,’ which are provisions in collective bargaining agreements between labor unions and employers that condition employment on a worker joining the union. In addition, such clauses permit, as a substitute for union membership, requiring the payment of fees to the union or, in the case of religious objection, making a substitute payment to a charitable organization. So it’s not as if prior to the law’s enactment certain people in Indiana were prevented from working and the law suddenly gave them the ‘Right to Work.’ Rather, it simply prevents forced union membership.”

Among other things, Simon ruled against the union’s argument that the “right-to-work” law violates the ex post facto clause of the U.S. Constitution because it applies to “existing contracts that were legal when entered into.” Simon found, on the contrary, that the law specifically applies “prospectively only,” and referred in his ruling to Indiana Labor Commissioner Torres’ declaration which, he wrote, “makes it clear that the state has no intention of enforcing the Right to Work law on contracts in existence on the date the law was passed.”

Simon also rejected the union’s argument that the law violates the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. Specifically, he found—following the U.S. Supreme Court—that union membership is “not a suspect classification” which would trigger any “strict scrutiny” of a law for possible violation of the Equal Protection clause

Local 150 had argued that, because the “right-to-work” law “restricts the channel of income that supports the union’s protected political speech,” it does violate the Equal Protection clause. Simon, against that argument, cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that though a plaintiff “may not ‘have as much money as it wants, and thus cannot exercise its freedom of speech as much as it would like, the Constitution “does not confer an entitlement to such funds as may be necessary to realize all the advantages of that freedom.” ”

Posted 1/23/2013