Section 14(b) of the National Labor Relations Act specifically authorizes state governments to adopt right-to-work statutes that prohibit compulsory union membership as a condition of employment. Two weeks ago, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that this authority does not extend to states’ political subdivisions, meaning that a local ordinance banning compulsory union membership was invalid.

In IUOE Local 399 v. Village of Lincolnshire, the village passed an ordinance prohibiting mandatory union hiring as well as dues checkoffs. A group of unions sued, claiming that the ordinance was pre-empted by the NLRA. The district court agreed, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling. All portions of the ordinance unlawfully interfere with employees’ rights to organize and bargain with employers. The Seventh Circuit found no evidence of congressional intent to extend the Section 14(b) exemption to local government units.

The court noted that allowing political subdivisions to regulate collective bargaining would result in a “crazy quilt” of local laws. Employers assigning employees to work in multiple cities within the same state would have an impossible task in trying to decide which rules apply when. While some local governments may want to have the flexibility to restrict unions, this decision at least provides more uniform rules for employers.