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Challenge to Indiana’s Right-to-Work Law Dismissed

Last week Judge Philip Simon of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana issued a twenty-three (23) page opinion dismissing International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Indiana’s 2012 right-to-work law.
Indiana’s right-to-work law was signed into law on February 1, 2012, making it the 23rd state to enact such legislation. (Michigan has since passed a “right-to-work” law as discussed last month.) Judge Simon’s opinion jumps immediately into the misleading nature of the “right-to-work” label associated with the law, and laws of its kind, stating: “[I]t’s not as if prior to the law’s enactment certain people in Indiana were prevented from working and the law suddenly gave them the ‘Right to Work.’ Rather, it simply prevents forced union membership.” 
The Union challenged the constitutionality of the law under the Contracts Clause and the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution in so much as the law was written to impact existing contracts in the building and construction industry. The state rebutted this argument, claiming that the right-to-work law was intended to apply prospectively only. After review of the statutory language and the legislative history, the court determined that the law only applies to contracts formed after March 14, 2012.
The Union next argued that the law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and that the court should employ a strict scrutiny standard of review because union membership is a fundamental right that involves the exercise of freedom of association, freedom of assembly, and freedom of speech.  The court reiterated the Supreme Court’s 1976 holding in City of Charlotte v. Local 660, that union membership is not a suspect classification triggering the strict scrutiny standard. The court ultimately employed rational basis review and found that the legislature had identified a rational basis for the passage of the law: “economic development.”  Finding a plausible public policy reason for the law’s enactment the court dismissed the Union’s challenge.
The court further dismissed the Union’s preemption argument and its arguments that the law violated the Indiana Constitution.
As discussed last month, it’s unlikely that “right-to-work” laws will successfully make their way into New England legislatures anytime soon. Despite that, the importance of staying abreast on the arguments supporting and opposing the potential effects of such laws cannot be overstated.

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