By: Marc R. Jacobs

On November 6, 2014, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the ruling of a superior court judge and held that the Indiana Right to Work Law does not violate the Indiana Constitution. Zoeller v. Sweeney, Case No. 45S00-1309-PL-596 (2014) (“Sweeney”).

The Indiana state law challenge decided in Sweeney raised a novel issue under the Indiana Constitution. Section 21 of the Indiana Bill of Rights, Article I of the Indiana Constitution, states in part: “No person’s particular services shall be demanded without just compensation.” The plaintiff union argued that because federal labor law requires a union with an exclusive bargaining relationship with the employer to represent the interests of all employees in the bargaining unit regardless of union membership, the law is a demand on the union to provide services without compensation. The lower court agreed and held that the Act violated Section 21.

The Indiana Supreme Court rejected the union’s claim, reversed the lower court decision, and held that the Act was constitutional. The Court ruled that the Indiana Constitution only limits “state, not federal, power.” As we reported on September 4, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the Act against federal law challenges in Sweeney v. Pence, Case No. 13-1264 (7th Cir. 2014). Borrowing from the Seventh Circuit’s decision, the Indiana Supreme Court determined that federal law and not Indiana state law provides the duty to represent all employees in the bargaining unit. As a result, the Court concluded that the Act did not violate Section 21 because “Article 21 requires just compensation when the state demands particular services, not when the federal government does so.”

In a statement after the ruling, Indiana Governor Mike Pence state: “Today’s unanimous decision by the Indiana Supreme Court upholding Indiana’s right to work law is a victory for the freedom of every Hoosier in the workplace. By this ruling, our Court 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.”

Although you might think that the unanimous decision of the Indiana Supreme Court in Sweeney should put to rest the validity of Indiana’s Right to Work Law, legal challenges remain pending. First, the federal court challenge to the Act (mentioned above) continues because the plaintiff union filed a request that the entire Seventh Circuit re-hear the case en banc. Briefs related to that request have been filed (the most recent filing was on October 30). Second, another case brought by a different union is pending before the Indiana Supreme Court. Zoeller v. United Steel, Paper, Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, AFL-CIO, Case No. 45S00-1407-PL-00492. In this second state court case, a different Indiana superior court judge also determined that the Act violated Section 21 of the Indiana Constitution. Given the ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court in the Sweeney case, it is reasonable to expect that the second state law case will be dismissed in the near future.