Right-to-Work and Preemption: Amicus in Sweeney v. Pence

Benjamin Sachs

Benjamin Sachs is the Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry at Harvard Law School and a leading expert in the field of labor law and labor relations. He is also faculty director of the Center for Labor and a Just Economy. Professor Sachs teaches courses in labor law, employment law, and law and social change, and his writing focuses on union organizing and unions in American politics. Prior to joining the Harvard faculty in 2008, Professor Sachs was the Joseph Goldstein Fellow at Yale Law School.  From 2002-2006, he served as Assistant General Counsel of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Washington, D.C.  Professor Sachs graduated from Yale Law School in 1998, and served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. His writing has appeared in the Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal, the Columbia Law Review, the New York Times and elsewhere.  Professor Sachs received the Yale Law School teaching award in 2007 and in 2013 received the Sacks-Freund Award for Teaching Excellence at Harvard Law School.  He can be reached at [email protected].

Catherine Fisk and I have filed an amicus in Sweeney v. Pence urging the seventh circuit to grant the petition for rehearing en banc.  We argue (based on our forthcoming article) that Indiana’s right-to-work law is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act.  Here’s the summary:

In February 2012, Indiana enacted so-called right-to-work legislation invalidating any employer requirement that union-represented employees “pay dues, fees, or other charges of any kind or amount to a labor organization … or to a charity or third party.” Indiana Code § 22-6-6-8. A three-judge panel of this Court, in an opinion by Judge Tinder joined by Judge Manion, over a dissent by Judge Wood, rejected the petitioner/appellants’ argument that the National Labor Relations Act preempts the Indiana law. For reasons explain below, the majority erred.

In a forthcoming article, we conclude that right-to-work laws like Indiana’s are preempted by federal law to the extent they prohibit collective bargaining agreements that require nonmembers to pay less than union dues and fees. See Catherine Fisk & Benjamin Sachs, Restoring Equity in Right to Work Laws, 4 U.C. Irvine L. Rev. 859, 862-68 (2014).  The National Labor Relations Act broadly preempts state laws regulating union-management relations and provides the exclusive source of law governing the interpretation and validity of collective bargaining agreements. See Teamsters Local 174 v. Lucas Flour, 369 U.S. 95 (1962); San Diego Bldg. Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236 (1959). With the limited exception to preemption of section 14(b), 29 U.S.C. § 164(b), the validity of fair share fee provisions of collective bargaining agreements is governed exclusively by federal law. Section 14(b) saves from preemption only state laws invalidating agreements requiring nonmembers to pay the same as is required of members. To the extent that Indiana Code § 22-6-6-8 invalidates collective agreements requiring nonmembers to pay less than is required of members, it is not within the section 14(b) savings provision. Accordingly, this Court should grant the petition for rehearing en banc and hold that federal labor law preempts the Indiana right-to-work law.

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