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Eye On Boise

Federal court rejects challenge to Idaho Right-to-Work law over fees, appeal likely

A federal judge in Idaho has ruled against a challenge to the state’s Right to Work law, but the case now likely will be appealed to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Senior U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge, in a ruling this week, found that the union that’s represented workers at Motive Power, a Boise plant where workers build, rebuild and refurbish locomotives, had standing to sue over Idaho’s requirement that it represent all the workers, including those who don’t join the union and don’t pay any fee to cover the costs of representing them in everything from contract negotiations to grievances. But Lodge ruled against the union’s argument that Idaho’s Right to Work Law is an unconstitutional taking – that it takes property from the union by “conscript(ing) the union into providing uncompensated services to anyone who decides to opt out of union membership,” as the lawsuit alleged.

Quoting earlier federal court decisions, Lodge wrote, “Even if Idaho’s right to work law could be said to ‘take’ Local 370’s ‘property,’ the union is justly compensated by federal law’s grant to the union the right to bargain exclusively with the employer. The reason the union must represent all employees is that the union alone gets a seat at the negotiation table.”

Therefore, Lodge found, “Because Local 370 is ‘fully and adequately compensated by its rights as the sole and exclusive member at the negotiating table,’ Local 370 fails to state a Fifth Amendment claim.”

Unions have won initial rulings in similar cases in state courts in Wisconsin and West Virginia. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals narrowly rejected similar arguments in an Indiana case in 2014.

James Piotrowski, attorney for the union, said he'll appeal. "We were actually pleased with parts of the decision, in that the judge seemed to agree with us on a number of matters," he said. "He didn't obviously agree with us on the ultimate question of the case, but we recognize that this is a close question, and that's exactly why we brought the case - because courts have been disagreeing about it. We always knew this was going to end up in the 9th Circuit, so now it will go there."

Piotrowski also is the Democratic candidate for Idaho’s 1st Congressional District seat, challenging GOP Rep. Raul Labrador.

Idaho passed its right-to-work law in 1985; the state’s voters affirmed it in a referendum in 1986, 54 percent to 46 percent. The Idaho law says no one can be required, as a condition of employment, “to pay any dues, fees, assessments, or other charges of any kind or amount to a labor organization.”

In the lawsuit, the union argued that it’s been able to negotiate a small representation fee for non-union members in states without such far-reaching right-to-work laws, to cover its costs, and the Idaho law unconstitutionally barred it from negotiating such a fee in Idaho. You can read the judge’s 27-page ruling here.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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