Cities, villages and counties don’t have the authority under
federal law to impose local right-to-work rules on employers, workers and
unions, a Chicago federal judge has said.
On Saturday, Jan. 7, U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly
tossed out a right-to-work ordinance enacted by the village of Lincolnshire,
siding with unions who argued federal labor laws did not give the village the
power to regulate labor relations.
The judge said permitting local community governments, either
cities or counties, to regulate labor agreements and union dues collections
would result in a “patchwork scheme” that was not intended by lawmakers in
enacting federal labor laws, including the National Labor Relations Act.
While the federal government has carved out exceptions for states
and territories to enact laws exempting employers in their states from the need
to comply with so-called “union security agreements,” or provisions in
collective bargaining agreements which effectively allow unions to force
employees working at certain companies and working certain jobs to join the
union, and compel the employer to collect dues and fees from employees on the
More than half of the states in the U.S. have enacted legislation
under that exemption to become so-called “right-to-work” jurisdictions. This
month, Kentucky became the 27th state to do so. In the Midwest,
right-to-work states include Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin. Missouri is
the only state bordering Illinois which has not enacted right-to-work
In December 2015, the
village board in north suburban Lincolnshire in Lake County voted 5-1 to enact
an ordinance exempting private employers in the village from the “union
security agreements” provision of federal labor laws, as well as compulsory
dues collection requirements. In court documents, the village has argued it, as
a “political subdivision” of the state of Illinois, should have the same rights
to enact right-to-work legislation as the state itself.
Four unions sued, arguing the NLRA preempts the ability of
villages and cities and other local governments from doing so, as the exemption
is limited only to state governments.
Kennelly agreed. While he noted there is scant case law addressing
the powers of local governments to enact right-to-work rules, the judge said he
believed legal precedent has indicated Congress had intended the right-to-work
exemption to apply narrowly only to states, as the NLRA has effectively created
“a federal policy that favors permitting union security agreements.”
Kennelly acknowledged the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in
Cincinnati had recently come to a different conclusion on that question. But
the judge said he “respectfully disagrees with the Sixth Circuit’s determination
of the point.”
“If the NLRA permitted local governmental entities to enact their
own laws regarding union security agreements, ‘the result would be a
crazy-quilt of regulations within the various states,’” Kennelly wrote, quoting
language within the 1990 decision in N.M.
Federation of Labor, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1564 v.
City of Clovis.
“And because unions often enter into agreements that cover
employees across multiple cities and towns within a given state, these
agreements would be subject to multiple, potentially conflicting, laws. This
would make it difficult for unions to comply with local law and would create a
strong ‘incentive to abandon union security agreements,’ thereby undermining
Congress's creation of a federal policy in favor of such agreements.”
The unions, including the International Union of Operating
Engineers Local 399; Operating Engineers Local 150; Chicago Regional Council of
Carpenters; and the Construction and General Laborers' District Council of
Chicago, were represented by staff attorneys, the firms of Whitfield McGann
& Ketterman, and Carmell
Charone Widmer Moss & Barr, and G&R Public Law and
Strategies, all of Chicago.
Lincolnshire was represented by attorneys with the Liberty Justice
Center, of Chicago.