Right-to-Work: Seventh Circuit Splits 5-5 on Rehearing Sweeney v. Pence

Published January 14th, 2015 -  - 01.14.1516


The seventh circuit yesterday denied appellants’ petition for rehearing en banc in Sweeney v. Pence, a case involving the legality of Indiana’s right-to-work law. But the vote on the petition was 5-5: Judges Posner, Rovner, Wood, Williams, and Hamilton dissented from the denial “for the reasons stated in Chief Judge Wood’s dissent to the panel opinion.” Despite the outcome here, the vote is an indication that there is now substantial support for the proposition that right-to-work laws like Indiana’s are preempted by federal labor law. Judge Wood’s dissent can be found here. Catherine Fisk and I filed an amicus brief urging rehearing in Sweeney, and we summarized the preemption argument as follows:

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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