Appeals Court: Right to Work law is constitutional

WISH File Photo
WISH File Photo

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Indiana’s Right to Work law does not violate federal labor laws. The split decision from a three-judge panel in Chicago affirms the state’s law as constitutional.

Indiana’s Right to Work legislation took effect in 2012 following a contentious debate at the Statehouse that included loud protests by union members and sparked Democratic legislators to leave the state in order to delay a final vote on the measure. It prohibits companies from forcing employees to join a labor union or pay union dues as a condition of employment.

Members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, AFL-CIO appealed lower court rulings upholding the law, arguing that it violates their constitutional rights and is “preempted by federal labor legislation.”

In the ruling, handed down Tuesday morning, two of the three judges disagreed, noting that while the legislation “prompted vigorous debate, both in the general public and the Indiana Statehouse…  legislative history makes it clear that the controversy is one that ought to be addressed and resolved at the level of legislative politics, not in the courts.”

“The statutory question posed is whether Indiana’s new law is preempted by federal labor law, or threatens the Union’s First Amendment rights,” the judges go on to write. “The answer is an emphatic no. Congress specifically reserved to the states the power to write and enforce laws of this nature, in accordance with individual states’ needs and wisdom. It is not our province to wrest this authority, which has been intact and undisturbed for over 65 years.”

Chief Judge Diane Wood dissented, opening her remarks by stating that the decision “is either incorrect or it lays bare an unconstitutional confiscation perpetuated by our current system of labor law…the plain language of the Nation Labor Relations Act does not support such a sweeping force for Indiana’s Right to Work law.”

Two separate Lake County judges have ruled Indiana’s Right to Work legislation unconstitutional this year, but the state’s Supreme Court has stayed both decisions following immediate appeals by Attorney General Greg Zoeller. That has kept the law in effect.

Indiana Supreme Court justices are scheduled to hear arguments in one of the Lake County rulings on Thursday.

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