Court hears arguments on Indiana right-to-work law

INDIANAPOLIS - An Indiana Supreme Court justice described Indiana's right-to-work law as "anti-union" Thursday as the court heard arguments on whether the legislation violates the state constitution.

The law bars unions from requiring non-members to pay union fees for representation. Supporters of the law, pushed mostly by business groups, argue that mandatory fees amount to forced unionizing. But Democrats and unions said the law creates a "freeloader" dynamic, because workers can gain the benefits of the union without having to pay for membership.

"It jacks up the cost to union members," said attorney Dale Pierson, representing a northwest Indiana local of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

"This is certainly anti-union legislation," Justice Steven David said, as justices peppered both sides with questions about the role of the state, the purpose of the law and how being required to protect other workers hurts union members.

Union lawyers want the court to uphold a Lake County judge's ruling that the Indiana Constitution bars anyone from being forced to provide a service for free, in this case union representation.

"It is good to see someone in the public arena say what we've been saying for years: This is not a public policy, it is a political policy," David Fagan, financial secretary of the northwest Indiana local of the Operating Engineers' union, said following the hearing.

The state attorney general's office wants the Lake County decision overturned.

"This law is a general regulation of business practices," Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher argued. He said the law protects workers who don't want to join a union from being forced to pay for one.

"This protects the voluntary aspect of what unions are supposed to be about," he said. "There is a need to protect the rights of individuals in the workplace."

Thursday's hearing came two days after a federal appeals court upheld Indiana's law in a split decision. Pierson said the union may ask the entire court to review the three-judge panel's 2-1 ruling that was handed down Tuesday.

Indiana became the first Rust Belt state to approve a right-to-work law in 2012, followed quickly by Michigan. Indiana's legislative fight drew thousands of union protesters to the Statehouse in 2011 and 2012, and it was one of Indiana's most divisive and drawn-out debates.

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