Photo courtesy INDOT
Workers pave a highway in Indiana. The state's right-to-work law makes it illegal to collect union dues as a condition of employment.

Indiana attorneys general and lawyers representing operating engineers' union Local 150 are set to go back to court over the state's 2012 right-to-work law, which makes it a crime to collect dues as a condition of employment.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller's office filed an appeal on Sept. 12 with the Indiana Supreme Court, asking the court to review a lower court's Sept. 5 ruling that the law violates the state constitution.

"We don't begrudge the right of private plaintiffs to challenge a statute, but my office has a duty to defend the policymaking authority of the people's elected representatives in the Legislature," Zoeller said in a statement provided to ENR.

Local 150, which filed the complaint in February, argues that the law violates the union's duty to represent employees receiving benefits under a union contract—even if they are not members of the union—and, in turn, to be paid for these services.

"It is in direct conflict with the constitution of Indiana," says James M. Sweeney, president and business manager of Local 150, in a phone interview. "So, they either need to go back and change the constitution of Indiana, or they need to go and modify the law to say that each person will pay his or her fair share." Chicago-based Local 150 represents operating engineers in construction and related sectors in Indiana, Illinois and Iowa.

Indiana's right-to-work law makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to compel another person to join a labor union. However, it also makes it a crime for unions to collect payments from non-union members, even if they are receiving union benefits due to a labor agreement. In effect, the law requires Local 150 to provide its services to these employees for free.

Earlier this month in Lake County Superior Court, Judge John M. Sedia struck down this portion of the law as unconstitutional. The law will stay in effect pending the higher court's review.

"There is no court which is more loathe to declare any state statute unconstitutional than this one," said Sedia in his decision. However, the effect of the state law, "under the current, long-standing federal labor law, is to demand particular services without just compensation."

The fight over Indiana's right-to-work law has been brewing for years. During his gubernatorial campaign nearly a decade ago, former Gov. Mitch Daniels promised to support economic growth in Indiana without making it a right-to-work state. He later changed his views.

"It's a divisive issue, and it's not good for the state of Indiana," Sweeney says.

Right-to-work supporters believe that, eventually, the state of Indiana will prevail. "Despite the Lake County court judge's ruling, the constitutionality of right-to-work laws has long been a settled question," says Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, in a statement.

Local 150 in January lost a similar case filed in federal court, which is now in front of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Federal appellate judges heard oral augments in that case on Sept. 12. Listen to them here. A federal court in Wisconsin on Sept. 11 upheld that state's right-to-work law covering public-sector employees.