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UPDATE: Appeals court upholds state's right-to-work law

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A federal appeals court upheld Indiana's right-to-work law banning mandatory union fees on Tuesday in a split decision that was delivered a few days before the state Supreme Court hears separate challenges over whether the 2012 measure violates the state constitution.

Two 7th Circuit Court of Appeal judges, Daniel Manion and John Tinder, said the state law doesn't wrongfully take property from unions and is constitutional. They also said federal law does not pre-empt Indiana's right-to-work law, as union lawyers have argued.

Chief Judge Diane Wood dissented, writing that federal labor law "does not support such sweeping force for Indiana's right-to-work law," and arguing that her fellow judges on the three-judge panel did not completely understand the universe of national labor law.

The appeals court ruling isn't likely to color arguments scheduled for Thursday before the Indiana Supreme Court, where a pair of cases from Lake County have challenged the law on state constitutional grounds. Judges in those two cases have said the law violates a provision of the Indiana constitution barring anyone from being forced to provide a service for free — in this case, union representation.

Indiana became the first Rust Belt state to approve a right-to-work law in 2012, followed quickly by Michigan. Indiana's legislative fight drew thousands of union protesters to the Statehouse in 2011 and 2012, and it was one of Indiana's most divisive and drawn-out debates.

The law bars unions from mandating that non-members pay fees to the union for representation. Supporters of the law, pushed mostly by business groups, argue that mandatory fees amount to forced unionizing. But Democrats and labor unions said the law creates a "freeloader" dynamic, because workers can gain the benefits of the union without having to pay for membership.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who is defending the state in both federal and state challenges to the law, hailed the ruling.

"Now that the federal courts have concluded the statute the people's elected representatives in the Legislature passed does not violate federal law, we will argue that the statute also complies with the Indiana Constitution and ought to be upheld," Zoeller said in a statement.

Union leaders are still deciding whether they will appeal the federal ruling, according to Ed Maher, spokesman for the International Union of Operating Engineers, which brought the federal suit and filed one of the state-level challenges.

But he noted "it in no way affects our optimism heading into Thursday's oral arguments on the state lawsuit."

Joel Schumm, a constitutional scholar at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law, noted the justices on the state's high court may be aware of the federal ruling, but it probably won't have much impact.

"The Indiana Constitution has a unique provision not found in the U.S. Constitution," he said.

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  • when is majority rule tyrannical?
    So, Paul Lambie, if majority rule is a good thing in terms of unionization, when is majority rule a bad thing? How about if the majority votes in favor of traditional marriage? Or against interracial marriage? Or putting such demands upon abortion doctors that 99% of abortion clinics are put out of business? Didn't the Volkswagen Chattanooga referendum from earlier this year show that unions don't really take kindly to the workers voting "no"? What if the problem of a union not serving its members well is a product of the inherent structure of the union itself, which in turn enriches its leadership who fight tooth and nail to maintain this self-serving structure, regardless of who specifically assumes this leadership position? Why do you hate corporations so much? They are comprised of people too, and they are the ones who have to make difficult decisions about the operations of business, while the workers get to keep turning the gaskets. Anti-union sentiment is just good old fashioned American meritocracy, raising its ugly head again. How awful it must be for those who want everyone to have equally mediocre aspirations.
  • Good!
    Good for the court upholding the law. Everyone should have the "right to work" without being forced to join an organization which they don't believe in. If I owned a business and I could swing it, I would pay the non-union workers better than the mindless union dues payers.
  • Affont to workers
    Sometimes majority rule is a good thing, such as in the decision of whether or not to unionize. From the comments I read on this topic, I get the impression that people think that a union forces itself into a workplace against the will of the workers. A union is only established if supported by a majority of the workplace's workers. And if a majority of the workers disapprove of the union, they can also vote to have it removed. But you can't expect to run a union where services are provided to all, but dues are voluntary just the same as you couldn't run a government that way. What would happen if payment of taxes were optional? Most people wouldn't pay, it's human nature, and government would collapse. If a union isn't serving its workers well, the membership can vote in new leadership. Right-to-work is simply a strategy to decimate unions and decrease the wage structure for workers to increase profits for corporations. Unfortunately, the strategy has been successful at gaining allies among workers by turning them against one another and by appealing to patriotic terms such as "freedom", "liberty" and "rights". America will not be a better place for the majority of citizens if and when the unions have been eradicated by the rich.
    • Affront to Freedom
      Is there any clearer affront to personal freedom than this union effort. Individuals should be able to choose to join or not to join a union based on their personal beliefs and values and not as a prerequisite to work. It would be interesting to see a poll on this item to add a public perspective.

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