Second Indiana Judge Bounces State Right-To-Work Law

CROWN POINT, Ind.–As far as Indiana’s so-called “right-to-work” law, the legal question now becomes “Will it be three strikes and you’re out?”

That’s because a second Lake County, Ind., circuit court judge, George Paras, acting on a challenge from the Steelworkers, has bounced the law, again citing the state constitution.  Appeals of both that case and a previously successful challenge, by the Operating Engineers, are headed for a state Supreme Court hearing in Indianapolis on Sept. 4.

The cases are important because they throw a monkey wrench into the ongoing national campaign by business and the Radical Right, led by the fanatic National Right to Work Committee, to impose such laws, state by state, nationwide.

Steelworkers District 7 Director Mike Millsap, whose area includes Indiana, hailed Paras’ ruling. “This ruling is a victory not just for unions, but for all of the hard-working people of Indiana, who deserve fair wages, decent benefits and a secure retirement,” Millsap said.

“These anti-union, right-to-work (for less) laws are no more than an effort by corporations and their friends in the legislature to help the rich get richer.  They are meant to weaken the voices and rights of workers by forcing their unions to work for free.

“Nobody should be forced to work for free.  This notion is more than just common sense – it is clearly stated in the Indiana Constitution.

So called “right to work” laws ban unions from negotiating mandatory collection of either dues or “fair share” fees into collective bargaining agreements.  But they leave intact the unions’ duty to represent the “free riders” in negotiations and grievances, while robbing it of money to do so.

And in the Steel Workers case, like the Operating Engineers case, that runs afoul of the Indiana Constitution, Judge  Paras ruled on July 17.  Another Lake County Circuit Judge had ruled for Operating Engineers Local 150 in their case.

Both Judge Paras and Lake County Judge John Sedia agreed with the unions and ruled  the “right to work” law breaks the constitution’s “particular services clause.”  It says that, “No person’s particular services shall be demanded, without just compensation.”

Paras said the constitution’s drafters wrote that clause specifically to protect workers from laws that deprive them of compensation, like right to work.

“By denying Steelworkers the ability to collect fair-share fees from nonunion members, it is clear the right-to-work law deprives the union of compensation for services it is required by federal law to provide to all employees in a bargaining unit, Paras added.

“But for the RTW (right-to-work) statute, plaintiffs would still be able to be compensated for such services,” Paras said.

“Moreover, the state of Indiana has taken a central role in the denial of just compensation to plaintiffs, as any violation of the RTW statute by them would bring about their criminal prosecution by the state of Indiana or administrative proceedings against them by the Indiana Department of Labor.”

Paras continued, “The RTW statute eviscerates the basic right that a person be compensated for the good and valuable services that a person provides in commercial endeavors and is the type of law that the particular services clause was intended to bar.”

Operating Engineers International President James Callahan, whose Local 150 won the first case, said:  “For a second time, the so-called ‘right-to-work’ law has been found unconstitutional.  Clearly, it’s time to restore the rights of workers and their unions that were stripped away by this ill-conceived scheme.  We look forward to Indiana workers once again having a level playing field to make their voices heard on the job.”

“Our politicians should be striving to create jobs and make life better for all working people — not attacking them with wrong-headed and unconstitutional laws like this,” Millsap said.