Special Edition: Indiana's "Right to Work"/"Right to Shirk" Law Unconstitutional

Last week in Sweeney v. Zoeller, Lake Superior Court in the State of Indiana found that the state’s newly enacted 'right to shirk' law is unconstitutional. In February 2013, the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150 filed a suit challenging the constitutionality of Indiana’s so-called 'right-to-work’ law on four grounds. Among its arguments, Local 150 urged the court to find the law unconstitutional because it made it a crime for unions to collect dues for services that federal law requires unions provide to both members and non-members.

The Indiana court found that the state’s right-to-work law violated the state’s constitutional provision requiring that “No person’s particular services shall be demanded, without just compensation.” While the court noted that it was “loathe to declare any state statute unconstitutional,” it ultimately invalidated the law because “it becomes a criminal offense for a union to receive just compensation for particular services federal law demands it provide to employees,” such as negotiating collective-bargaining agreements and processing grievances. In other words, the Court decided it was unconstitutional to force the Union to provide services to non-members without just compensation.

Indiana’s Attorney General said that he will appeal the decision to the Indiana Supreme Court.

As Republican-controlled legislatures across the country attempt to weaken unions, the Indiana court’s decision represents a huge victory for the labor movement. Unions in other states can use the Sweeney decision as a template to challenge right-to-work laws.

By Anthony Tucci | September 13, 2013

Legal Developments