Seventh Circuit Affirms Wisconsin’s “Right-to-Work” Law
On July 12, 2017, a three-Judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the United States Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin’s September 26, 2016 decision upholding Wisconsin’s “Right to Work” law against a challenge brought by the International Union of Operating Engineers.
2015 Wisconsin Act 1, known as Wisconsin’s “Right-to-Work” law is one of many similar laws enacted by States across the country during the past several years. Wisconsin was the 26th state to pass a “Right-to-Work” law. The law, which applies to any labor agreement that was entered into, modified, renewed or extended after the March 11, 2015 effective date of the law, makes “union security” clauses illegal. “Union security” clauses require workers to join a union – and pay the corresponding dues – as a condition of employment. Collective bargaining agreements commonly contain such clauses. Courts had previously held that compulsory union membership is illegal.
Two chapters of the International Union of Operating Engineers had filed a lawsuit last year in District Court, alleging that the “Right-to-Work” law’s provisions amount to an unconstitutional taking of the Union’s property without just compensation, and that the law is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act. District Court Judge J.P. Stadtmueller heard the case and determined that the challenged law mirrored a nearly-identical law in Indiana which, in the case of Sweeney v. Pence, 767 F.3d 654 (7th Circuit 2014), had been upheld. Accordingly, Judge Stadtmueller applied the precedent established by the Seventh Circuit in Sweeney and held that Wisconsin’s nearly-identical version was similarly lawful. This was the second time that Wisconsin’s “Right-to-Work” law has been upheld and survived a Constitutional and preemption challenge.
The Union appealed Judge Stadtmueller’s decision, arguing that Sweeney had been wrongly decided and should be overturned. However, as previously mentioned, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals was not persuaded, and held that the Wisconsin law was essentially the same as the Indiana law the court had previously upheld, and that the Union had failed to advance a compelling argument to reach a different conclusion from Judge Stadtmueller’s.
The Seventh Circuit’s decision is in line with a national trend in which a number of similar laws have been upheld by Federal appellate courts throughout the country. The Union may attempt to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, but such appeals are discretionary with the court and the chances of the Supreme Court reversing the Seventh Circuit are very slim, particularly given the current makeup of the Court. Until then, “Right-to-Work” remains the law of the land in Wisconsin.
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