January 4, 2012 in Business, Idaho

Federal judge rejects Idaho anti-union laws

By The Spokesman-Review

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

The two measures, SB 1007 and 1006, were expansions of Idaho’s right-to-work law. One banned “job targeting programs” that use union dues to subsidize members’ wages as a way to help contractors win bids. The other banned “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.

“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 Court Judge Lynn Winmill in July issued an injunction to block SB 1007 from taking effect. Late last month, he granted summary judgment motions from the Idaho Building and Construction Trades Council and the Southwest Idaho Building and Construction Trades Council, both AFL-CIO, to invalidate the laws.

The state raised several procedural issues, which the judge rejected. 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 Inland ABC already has filed notice of an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying the organization 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.”

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 Coeur d’Alene – who also founded a large construction company in Coeur d’Alene – with the Inland ABC.

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

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