Appellate court affirms denial of right to work law in Lincolnshire

Chicago Sun-Times

A federal appeals court reaffirmed an earlier federal judge’s decision denying northwest suburban Lincolnshire the right to establish a right-to-work-ordinance.

The court ruled that while the National Labor Relations Act does allow individual states to pass right-to-work laws, the law does not provide wiggle room for states to pass that responsibility to local governments.

To do so would create “administrative nightmares” in the form of a patchwork of confusing and clashing local labor laws, U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Circuit Judge Diane Wood pointed out in the unanimous opinion.

“No one would be able to figure out what is legal and what is not,” Wood wrote, explaining that Illinois alone has almost 7,000 local governments.

So-called “right-to-work” laws allow workers to opt out of paying union fees even if the very same workers benefit from union collective bargaining.

“The idea that businesses operate exclusively within [the village of Lincolnshire’s] borders strikes us as fanciful,” Wood wrote. “Is an employee subject to an agency agreement one day, when his job takes him to nearby Chicago, and not the next day, when he happens to be working on-site in Lincolnshire?”

Wood compared the situation to Medicaid.

“States have the power to choose whether to opt into Medicaid, but that power must be exercised by the state as a whole and cannot be re-delegated,” she wrote in the decision.

Lincolnshire in 2015 enacted a right-to-work ordinance. The ordinance was challenged in federal court by several unions. In January 2017, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly ruled in favor of the unions.

Friday’s 7th Circuit Appeals Court decision, however, runs counter to a 2016 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that reviewed a right-to-work case in Kentucky and ruled in favor of the ability of municipalities to establish right-to-work laws.

“We now have a split between the 6th and 7th Circuit Courts, which presents us with the opportunity to appeal this case to the U.S. Supreme Court. We intend to do so,” said Diana Rickert of the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center, which represented Lincolnshire.

The Justice Center — which is affiliated with the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank — also represented former Illinois state worker Mark Janus, whose case against “fair share” union payments resulted in a Supreme Court decision in June that was major blow to public-sector labor groups across the country.

Terrance McGann, an attorney representing the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters in the lawsuit, said he “could only anticipate the case would be well received” but hopes the issue does not reach the Supreme Court.

“Judge Kennelly’s ruling, as well as the 7th Circuit’s backing that ruling, are both legally sound,” he said. “My concern is the Supreme Court may want to make this fit a rationale that fits a political agenda.”