Court Allows USW to Proceed With Challenge To Recent Indiana Right-to-Work Legislation
United Steelworkers v. Daniels, Ind. Cir. Ct., No. 45C01-1207-PL-00071, 10/16/12
- Key Holding:Lawsuit over right-to-work legislation is ripe for determination of challenge based on state constitution.
- Next Steps:State will file an answer to USW complaint and will continue to defend the legislation.
By Lawrence E. Dubé
An Indiana trial court ruled Oct. 16 that the United Steelworkers can pursue a legal challenge to the right-to-work legislation enacted in the state earlier this year, finding the court could not “categorically” rule “at this time” that the new statute does not violate the state constitution (United Steelworkers v. Daniels, Ind. Cir. Ct., No. 45C01-1207-PL-00071, 10/16/12).
Denying in part a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) and other state defendants, Judge George C. Paras of the Lake County Circuit Court held that the union’s challenge to the statute is ripe for determination. The court also said the union was entitled to raise its legal argument in an action requesting a declaratory judgment that the law violates the state constitution.
But Paras dismissed Daniels as a defendant in the case, finding the Indiana governor had absolute immunity for passage of the law, which does not give his office any specific enforcement powers.
Union Challenges Target Right-to-Work Bill
USW filed a lawsuit after Daniels signed the law (H.B. 1001) on Feb. 1 (21 DLR AA-1, 2/1/12). The new legislation took effect March 14.
The union argues that the right-to-work legislation, now codified as Ind. Code § 22-6-6, requires unions to represent workers who receive the benefits of union membership without contributing to the costs of union representation. USW contends that the legislation violates Article 1, Section 21, of the Indiana constitution, which provides, “No person’s particular services shall be demanded, without just compensation.”
In another lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, several officers and members of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 allege that the right-to-work measure violates a number of federal and state laws (Sweeney v. Daniels, N.D. Ind., No. 12-cv-81; 36 DLR A-10, 2/23/12). The federal court challenge to the right-to-work law has not been resolved.
State Court Allows USW Lawsuit to Proceed
After considering briefs and oral arguments in the Steelworkers’ challenge to the statute, Paras rejected the state’s argument that the union’s claim was not ripe for judicial determination. Finding that the legislation has gone into effect and “circumscribes” the union’s ability to negotiate “certain contract terms,” the court said the dispute was ripe for purposes of the lawsuit before him.
Paras rejected the state’s argument that the union could not raise its objections to the statute by filing a lawsuit for a declaratory judgment. Observing that “no other remedy exists for a timely determination of the constitutionality of the legislation in question, the court said USW was making a permissible use of Indiana’s declaratory judgment procedure.
The state also asked for dismissal of the lawsuit on grounds that the right-to-work legislation does not violate the state constitutional provision invoked by the Steelworkers. Paras said “it cannot be categorically said at this time that IC § 22-6-6 does not violate Article I § 21 of the Indiana Constitution.”
Union, State Stand Their Ground on Bill
In a written statement on the ruling Oct. 18, Jim Robinson, director of USW’s District 7, which includes Indiana, said, “We are pleased by this decision and look forward to seeing this unjust law, which is bad for Hoosier workers and does not represent our Midwestern value of accepting personal responsibility, be struck down by the courts.”
Bryan Corbin, public information officer for Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, emailed a statement to BNA Oct. 19 that the attorney general, who is responsible for defending legislation from challenges filed by private plaintiffs, contended in the state’s motion to dismiss that Daniels was entitled to absolute immunity concerning passage of the right-to-work legislation.
“[W]e are pleased that the Court has agreed and ruled that our client is dismissed from this lawsuit,” Corbin said, adding that the state will file an answer to the Steelworkers’ complaint and expects to “pursue additional avenues for upholding the law’s constitutionality.”
By Lawrence E. Dubé
Text of the order is available at http://about.bloomberg.com/blaw2/files/2013/01/Groff-Ruling.pdf.