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September 9, 2013

Indiana judge finds right-to-work unconstitutional

INDIANAPOLIS — A Lake County judge has determined Indiana's right-to-work law violates a provision in the state constitution barring the delivery of services "without just compensation."

Lake Superior Court Judge John Sedia found that the law wrongly requires unions to represent workers who do not pay dues. Indiana became the 23rd state in the nation to ban the collection of mandatory fees for representation from unions.

Since then, union lawyers have gone to the courts to try and overturn the law. Sedia issued an order last Thursday declaring the ban on collections and associated criminal penalties unconstitutional.

Bryan Corbin, a spokesman for Attorney General Greg Zoeller, pointed out the ruling allows the law to stay in effect while an appeal to the state Supreme Court is prepared.

"The State will take an immediate appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court of this declaratory judgment which we contend is incorrect, in light of the fact the same court granted the State's motion to dismiss on four other counts," Corbin wrote in a statement. "The Indiana Attorney General's Office will aggressively defend the authority of the people's elected representatives in the Legislature as we successfully defended this same statute from the same plaintiff who challenged it in federal court."

The ruling continues a battle between union members and Indiana Republicans who signed off on the measure last year. Indiana became the first state in the Rust Belt to approve right-to-work, after two chaotic sessions of the Indiana General Assembly, marked by a walkout of House Democrats in 2011 and periodic boycotts by the same group in 2012.

Members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, in northwest Indiana, filed the suit looking to overturn the law.

"These laws are nothing but thinly veiled tools to weaken unions, and this is a big win for workers who rely on unions to provide decent wages and benefits," said Local 150 president and business manager James M. Sweeney in a statement. "We pledged on the day that this law was passed that they hadn't seen the last of us, and we are delighted with this ruling."

But national supporters of the law, who have been pushing the measure with some success in other states, said the ruling amounted to only a partial victory: of the five counts the union sought, Sedia dismissed four of them.

"I would suggest (Sedia) was right to dismiss the four he dismissed, but should have dismissed the fifth one also," said Greg Mourad, vice president of the National Right to Work Committee.

 

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