Federal judge voids two new Idaho anti-union laws

TUESDAY, JAN. 3, 2012, 5 P.M.

BOISE - A federal judge has invalidated both the new anti-union laws pushed through by Idaho GOP lawmakers last session, saying they violate federal law.

The two measures, SB 1007 and 1006, both expansions of Idaho’s Right-to-Work law, sought to ban “job targeting programs” that use union dues funds to subsidize members’ wages as a way to help contractors win bids, and to ban “project labor agreements” through which contractors sign agreements with unionized workers while bidding on public works projects.

The measures were pushed amid legislative grousing over loud picketing at some Idaho projects by the Carpenters Union, but they didn’t address picketing.

“We fought pretty hard on this,” said John Littel, regional political director for the Carpenters Union. “We were pretty surprised about how much momentum there was to really, I think, try to take a bite out of the unions, and specifically the carpenters.”

U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill, who in July issued an injunction to block SB 1007 from taking effect, granted summary judgment motions in late December from the Idaho Building and Construction Trades Council and the Southwest Idaho Building and Construction Trades Council, both AFL-CIO, to invalidate both laws.

The state raised several procedural issues, which the judge rejected, and the Inland Pacific Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors and the National Right to Work Legal Foundation both filed briefs in support of the new laws.

The ABC already has filed notice of an appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, saying it should have been allowed to intervene as a full party in the case.

The judge said the various programs targeted by the bills weren’t, as the ABC argued, “a form of compulsory unionism.” Wrote Winmill, “Nothing about a job targeting program … makes union membership compulsory. Because Idaho is a right-to-work state, membership in any local in Idaho is entirely voluntary.”

Littel said, “We’re gratified that the judge recognized that both project labor agreements and market recovery programs are protected activities under the National Labor Relations Act, and regardless of what a legislator thinks or feels about a union’s right to exist or not, these are protected activities.”

Both bills were sponsored by Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, who acknowledged that there was “a lot of talk about” legal issues with the bills, but said, “I thought that we were OK.” Goedde said, “We had instances where the carpenters union from Portland was disrupting work, and I think that was the real emphasis behind the effort.” He said the issue was brought to him by former state lawmaker Dean Haagenson of the Inland Empire Associated Building Contractors.

The state hasn’t said whether it plans to appeal the judge’s decision.

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