Yesterday, attorneys representing the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 appeared in the Seventh Circuit Federal Court of Appeals to present oral arguments on an appeal of the union’s federal lawsuit, which was dismissed earlier this year. This comes one week after State Judge Daniel Sedia ruled in Local 150’s favor on a state lawsuit, declaring Indiana’s right to work law unconstitutional.
Dale Pierson, general counsel for Local 150, delivered the oral argument, focusing on a claim that attacked right to work laws at their most fundamental levels. Pierson argued that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the nation’s original labor law, did not grant states the authority to implement right to work laws.
“The NLRA allows states to pass laws prohibiting mandatory union membership or the mandatory payment of dues or fees equivalent to dues as a condition of employment,” Pierson said. “But for 50 years, federal law has allowed workers to willfully opt out of full dues payment, so we believe that state right to work laws have operated beyond their jurisdiction essentially unchecked since 1963.”
Last week’s state decision declared the law unconstitutional on the grounds that while federal labor law requires that unions provide equal services to non-members, the right to work law makes it criminal to charge a fee for service, amounting to forced work without compensation. The federal appeals panel asked questions and made comments of the same nature.
“When people render services they are entitled to be paid, and federal law imposes the obligation,” said Judge Diane P. Wood, who presided over the appellate panel, to Assistant Attorney General David L. Skiner. “I don’t see how you can get around that.” Judges Daniel A. Manion and John D. Tinder were also on the Seventh Circuit panel.
“The court was very well prepared, and the judges’ questions were indicative of their understanding of the case law surrounding this statute,” said James M. Sweeney, president-business manager of Local 150. “We are encouraged by the fact that both state and federal courts have acknowledged and expressed concern about the burdensome and unjust obligation that unions have to provide free services in right to work states.”
The federal court took the arguments under consideration. Meanwhile, Attorney General Zoeller’s office filed an appeal to the state ruling with the Indiana Supreme Court on Thursday, so the union will continue to prepare to make its case in both lawsuits.