Indiana Supreme Court Holds Right-to-Work Law is Constitutional

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May 5, 2015

Several months ago, there was a lot of media coverage about a law adopted by the Indiana Legislature known as the Right-to-Work law. This law provided that a union could not force union members to pay union dues or be required to join a union that represented employees at a company. This law was subject to several legal challenges.

The federal court for the Seventh District (which also includes Wisconsin) previously held that the law was constitutional and an appropriate exercise of legislative authority by the Indiana Legislature. Several state trial court cases held, however, that the law was unconstitutional because of peculiar language in the Indiana Constitution. The Indiana Supreme Court has now held that the law is constitutional and it was appropriate for the Legislature to pass a law which prohibited unions and employers from entering into a collective bargaining agreement which required all employees to join the union or pay dues to the union. Thus, Indiana employers who are negotiating with local unions are not required to negotiate on language which would require mandatory payment of dues and mandatory enrollment with the union if an employee wished to stay employed by the company.

There has been talk about the Wisconsin Legislature passing a “right-to-work law” for Wisconsin employers. It is too early to tell whether this will become an issue in the upcoming legislative session, but the ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court is very helpful to those advocates who seek adoption of a right-to-work statute in Wisconsin. Recently, a group has come out advocating for right-to-work legislation in Wisconsin. It appears that the Legislature is interested in talking about this topic, although no promises have been made or assurances given that the Legislators approve this type of legislation. 

If such a law is adopted, Wisconsin employers would be prohibited from negotiating a union shop clause which requires all employees to join the union to remain employed by the company and prohibits a Wisconsin employer from negotiating mandatory dues deductions from all employees who are part of the union membership. Wisconsin employers should be careful as they go to the bargaining table to be aware of what may happen in the Legislature and adjust their bargaining strategy as may be appropriate.

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