Union Drops Challenge to Idaho Right-to-Work Law

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By Hassan A. Kanu

A union in Idaho dropped its challenge to the state’s right-to-work law in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus ruling last month.

The justices said in Janus that public sector workers who don’t join a union can’t be required to pay “fair share” fees.

The International Union of Operating Engineers’ strategic decision July 12 to drop its suit—a win for them could have also been appealed to the Supreme Court—is a signal that most state-level right-to-work legislation will now be considered lawful under the Janus precedent. About 28 states have right-to-work laws.

Local 370 of the IUOE sued the state in 2015, arguing that Idaho’s right-to-work legislation went too far by banning “fair share” fees. Nonmembers in a union workplace have often been required to pay such fees, an amount smaller than full membership fees, to help cover the union’s costs in bargaining for their collective employment contract. Federal law requires unions to represent all workers in a bargaining unit, including those who choose not to formally join.

The union lost in a federal district court and then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which hadn’t yet decided on the validity of right-to-work laws like Idaho’s. But the Supreme Court meanwhile decided that fair share fees are a violation of nonmembers’ free speech rights because unions engage in political activity supported by their payments that they may not necessarily support.

The high court’s decision applied in the public sector but seems to have prompted Local 370, which represents private sector workers, to drop its own case. The union likely calculated that a win in the Ninth Circuit wouldn’t survive an appeal to the Supreme Court, in light of its 5-4 opinion in Janus.

“This development is a huge victory for independent-minded workers, not just in Idaho but across the country,” National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix said in a statement after the withdrawal. The organization backed Mark Janus in his case and had filed briefs in the Idaho case as well.

Representatives for the union didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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