Court strikes down Lincolnshire right-to-work ordinance

Staff Reporter – Pioneer Press 

A federal judge recently struck down a controversial right-to-work law in aimed at organized labor, ruling that federal law preempts the local ordinance. Lincolnshire aimed at organized labor, ruling that federal law preempts the local ordinance.

Judge Matthew Kennelly of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois wrote in his ruling that only states have the power to enact laws prohibiting union security agreements.

So-called “right-to-work” legislation lets people work for a company in union-protected positions without having to join the union or pay the full share of union dues. In a zone designated right-to-work, non-union employees can get benefits negotiated with company management by a labor union.

Lincolnshire approved its right-to-work ordinance, which does not apply to public-sector jobs like police service or firefighting, in 2015.

But in his ruling Saturday, Kennelly said that the National Labor Relations Act exemption for states and territories didn’t apply to Lincolnshire, meaning the municipality lacked the authority to enact its law. The judge issued a summary judgment in the case, siding with the four unions that filed the federal lawsuit in early 2016 challenging Lincolnshire’s ordinance.

The unions who filed the federal lawsuit were the International Union of Operating Engineers Locals 150 and 399, the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters and the Laborers District Council of Chicago and Vicinity.

Local 150 spokesman Ed Maher declared victory following Kennelly’s ruling and noted that his organization is keeping tracking of similar legal challenges in other states.

“We look at this as a victory for the state of Illinois,” Maher said. “There were a lot of eyes watching this.”

Lincolnshire Mayor Liz Brandt said in a text message Monday night that village officials wouldn’t be commenting on Kennelly’s decision but she hinted at a possible appeal going forward.

“The suit will move to a higher court,” she said.

When Lincolnshire met to approve the ordinance in 2015, union members packed Lincolnshire Village Hall to protest the move. Following the passage of the right-to-work ordinance in Lincolnshire, the local labor union also called on members to boycott non-union businesses in Lincolnshire and asked the public to do the same.

Since taking office, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has promoted right-to-work zones. Several other states that border Illinois — including Wisconsin — have passed similar legislation, and Rauner has asked Illinois municipalities to take up the cause within their own borders.

Earlier in November, Lincolnshire officials also announced settlements on two other lawsuits filed by labor unions in state court.

The Liberty Justice Center, which had agreed to represent Lincolnshire pro bono in all three lawsuits, said under the agreement, it would pay $10,000 to the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 and its individual plaintiffs.

The union then agreed to drop two lawsuits it filed in state courts, officials with the Liberty Justice Center said in November. The Liberty Justice Center is the legal arm of the Illinois Policy Institute, a Chicago-based conservative think tank.

The two lawsuits questioned procedural matters in connection with the meeting at which Lincolnshire village board members approved the ordinance. One of the lawsuits filed in state court alleged an Open Meetings Act violation, arguing officials prohibited two union supporters from speaking during public comment at the meeting at which the ordinance was approved.

Depending on the outcome, the lawsuit could have nullified trustees’ approval vote of the ordinance, attorneys with the Liberty Justice Center have said. The other lawsuit pertained to email exchanges involving village officials following the meeting at which the ordinance was approved.