INDIANAPOLIS (CN) - A judge improperly sided with unions in striking down Indiana's "right to work" law as unconstitutional, the state Supreme Court ruled.
The law, which exists in 24 U.S. states, prohibits employers and unions from requiring worker participation in unions and the payment of dues, as a condition of employment.
James Sweeney, president of the Local 150 Union of Operating Engineers, led the challenge of the law under Article 1, Section 21 of the Indiana Constitution, which says "no person's particular services shall be demanded, without just compensation."
The Lake County Superior Court ruled in July that the law violated state constitution, on the grounds that it required the unions to represent non-members for free.
In reversing that finding on Nov. 6, the mostly unanimous Indiana Supreme Court took issue with the finding that the state was in fact demanding any service.
"The union's federal obligation to represent all employees in a bargaining unit is optional; it occurs only when the union elects to be the exclusive bargaining agent, for which it is justly compensated by the right to bargain exclusively with the employer," the six-page opinion states.
Justice Brent Dickson, who wrote the lead opinion, went on to quote precedent from the 7th Circuit this year in Sweeney v. Pence.
"The duty of fair representation is therefore a 'corresponding duty' imposed in exchange for the powers granted to the Union as to an exclusive representative," according to Sweeney.
Sweeney emphasized after the ruling that a members-only bargaining unit was not an option because an employer can simply choose to not bargain with a minority union.
"The court's decision centered on its ruling that unions can form 'members only' bargaining units, which we know through decades of legal precedent to be unlawful," Sweeney said in a statement. "Because this decision is based on what we firmly believe to be a misinterpretation of federal law, we will consider petitioning the United States Supreme Court to hear this case."
In the 7th Circuit's ruling on the Indiana law, it found no violation of any constitutional rights
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence applauded the state court's decision as "a victory for the freedom of every Hoosier in the workplace."
"By this ruling, our court has reaffirmed Indiana law that no Hoosier may be compelled to join a union as a condition of their employment but every Hoosier is free to join a union if they choose," Pence said in a statement.
The original complaint had questioned the law on several grounds, including equal protection of union rights and free speech. All challenges except against Section 21 were previously dismissed by the lower court.
Justice Robert Rucker wrote separately to emphasize the early stage of the case.
"In essence there may very well exist a set of facts and circumstances that if properly presented and proven could demonstrate that a union has actually been deprived of compensation for particular services by application of the Right to Work Law," Rucker wrote. "And thus as to that union the statute would be unconstitutional as applied. However, this is not that case.
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