Right-to-work law back in court

The Indiana Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases Thursday regarding the constitutionality of the state's 'right to work' law.

By Mary Kuhlman

Days after a federal appeals court upheld the state's 'right to work' law, the Indiana Supreme Court is set to hear arguments today (Thursday) in two cases challenging the law.

The 2012 law bars making union dues a condition of employment, and allows people to join unions without paying any fee. Ed Maher with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 calls it an unfair situation for unions, because they can be forced to use dues from paying members to provide services for workers who do not pay a union fee.

"If somebody opted out of their union membership and stopped paying dues, and then they were fired from their job for a reason they believe was unjust, they could ask the union to take up their cause in court," explains Maher. "If the union failed to do that, they could be brought up on fair representation charges."

On Tuesday, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the state law does not wrongfully take property from unions and it is not pre-empted by federal law. Today, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments in cases from the International Operating Engineers Union and the United Steelworkers Union, challenging the law on state constitutional grounds. According to the Indiana state constitution, no person's particular services should be taken without just compensation.

Maher says the law makes it more difficult for unions to negotiate fair wages and benefits for Indiana workers. He claims that so-called 'right to work' is not about worker freedom, but about weakening unions by taking money from paying members.

"In any non-right to work state, a worker has the option to opt out of union membership," he says. "A worker has the option of opting out of paying full union dues. So this law doesn't offer any new rights. You know it's quite a creative name, whoever came up with it was pretty clever, but all it does is try to weaken unions."

Supporters of 'right to work' disagree, and say mandating employees to pay fees is forced unionizing. About half of the 50 states currently have 'right to work' laws on the books.

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