Steelworkers Union Hierarchy Schizophrenic About Members-Only Bargaining

For decades, Big Labor bosses have been insisting they are entitled under the U.S. Constitution to extract forced union dues from union nonmembers who are subject to union monopoly bargaining.  But federal courts have never agreed.

Just last year, for example, a federal court curtly dismissed a lawsuit filed by bosses of Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE/AFL-CIO), headquartered in the Chicago suburbs, claiming that Indiana’s Right to Work law, enacted in early 2012, violates their First Amendment “right” to pay for union speech with forced fees conscripted from workers who choose not to join.

But lately union lawyers have had more success in contending in state courts that Indiana’s Right to Work law denies them employee money to which they are entitled.  At least, union lawyers have now successfully made this argument twice in circuit courts in Big Labor-dominated Lake County.

Last September, Lake County judge John Sedia basically agreed with IUOE lawyers that the Indiana Right to Work statute violates Article I, Section 21 of the state constitution, which provides that: “No person’s particular services will be demanded, without just compensation.”  And in a ruling issued July 17, Lake County Judge George Paras reached the same conclusion in a case brought by top bosses of the United Steelworkers (USW/AFL-CIO) international union.

Unfortunately for IUOE, USW, and other union kingpins, these opinions are unlikely to be affirmed by the state Supreme Court, where an appeal in the first case is scheduled to be heard in early September.

U.S. Supreme Court precedents such as 1938’s Consolidated Edison decision clearly establish that union officials backed by a minority or a majority of employees in a workplace have the option of seeking recognition as the bargaining agent for members only.  Under the members-only system, union officials have neither the power nor the obligation to represent any workers other than those who join the union and pay dues.

However, as Indianapolis attorney and commentator Abdul  Hakim Shabazz pointed out in a column for Evansville’s Courier & Press appearing last October 3, union bosses very rarely take the members-only route “because they lose a lot of the [powers] granted to them by federal law, one of which is to collect fees from non-union members in states that don’t have a Right to Work law.”

It’s union officials’ legal prerogative to pass up their members-only option and instead seek recognition by the employer as employees’ monopoly-bargaining agent.  But that obviously doesn’t give them any constitutional entitlement, federal or state, to force workers who never asked to be unionized to pay union dues.

In pushing for judicial nullification of Indiana’s Right to Work law, union lawyers have at times sought to belittle the significance of Consolidated Edison and other court precedents upholding the legality of members-only bargaining, and at other times simply pretended these precedents don’t exist.

This is an especially cynical strategy for USW union bosses, because they personally, along with top bosses of six other AFL-CIO-affiliated unions, filed a petition to the National Labor Relations Board in August 2007 (“In the Matter of Rulemaking Regarding Members-Only Minority-Union Collective Bargaining”) that explicitly acknowledged that “long-standing case law has expressly validated both the process and the product of employers’ recognizing and bargaining with . . . unions for their members only.”

And yet the USW bosses’ case against the Indiana Right to Work law, like the IUOE kingpins’ case before it, is predicated on the assumption that members-only bargaining doesn’t exist, and that federal law permits them to represent employees only as a monopoly-bargaining agent, setting contract terms for union members and nonmembers alike!

Union lawyers apparently knew they could count on Judges Sedia and Paras not to trouble them regarding this gaping  flaw in their anti-Right to Work lawsuits, as well as multiple other problems with their arguments. But they will almost certainly have a much tougher row to hoe at the state Supreme Court — especially since National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorneys, representing independent-minded Indiana employees who do not wish to be forced to pay union dues or fees, are filing an amicus brief laying out all of the relevant facts regarding why union bosses are not entitled to union nonmembers’ money.

A 2007 petition to the National Labor Relations Board filed by top bosses of the United Steelworkers and six other AFL-CIO- affiliated international unions acknowledged that “long-standing case law has expressly validated both the process and the product of employers’ recognizing and bargaining with . . . unions for their members only.” But as they battle to overturn Indiana’s 30-month-old Right to Work law in court, Steelworkers union czar Leo Gerard and his lieutenants appear to have completely forgotten this fact. Image:


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