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Right-to-work hit as speech issue

– Indiana’s new right-to-work law should be struck down because it infringes upon unions’ free-speech rights by depriving them of the dues that fund their political speech, attorneys for a union challenging the law contend, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s so-called Citizens United ruling that eased restrictions on corporate campaign spending.

Attorneys for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 argue in a court brief that Indiana’s new law, which allows workers to not pay union dues even if a union bargains on their behalf, interferes with the union’s free-speech rights and “impinges on this fundamental right of union membership.”

The argument is just one of many tucked into the hefty 45-page brief the union filed in federal court late last month in response to the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. A hearing on the state’s motion is scheduled for April 26 in U.S. District Court in Hammond.

Along with other arguments based on state and federal constitutions and federal labor law, the union cites the 2010 Citizens United decision, which struck down on free-speech grounds restrictions on corporations’ and union spending on advertising endorsing or opposing certain candidates.

The Indiana union’s lawyers contend that the right-to-work law interferes with the union’s free-speech rights by stifling the collection of money that helps pay for its political speech.

Adam Skaggs, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said it would be a “stretch” to read the Supreme Court decision in such a way because the ruling is about spending money, not collecting it.

“I’m not sure that Citizens United is going to bear the weight they’re attempting to put on it,” Skaggs said.

Jim Bopp, who crafted the argument that resulted in Citizens United, said a ruling accepting the union’s argument would “turn Citizens United on its head.”

“The free speech is for you to speak ... it’s not that you have the authority to have others pay for it.”