BOISE, Idaho — Non-union workers in Idaho could be required to pay fees to the unions that represent them if a lawsuit pending in federal court succeeds.

Idaho is one of 26 states with right-to-work laws that forbid requiring union membership as a condition of employment. The lawsuit from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 370 argues that it’s unconstitutional to require unions to spend money and time representing non-members while also forbidding any fees. It’s one of several such lawsuits pending in three states.

“Right to work is the law of Idaho,” said James Piotrowski, the attorney representing the union. “What we’re looking at is: Can they get help and force the other guy to pay for it?”

The union, which is based in Spokane, represents a locomotive plant in Boise with 400 workers. According to the lawsuit, just 32 percent of the workers at MotivePower are dues-paying union members, but the union still negotiates contracts for all 400 employees and represents them all in grievances and other employment proceedings.

Workers at the plant ask the union to file a grievance on the worker’s behalf an average of twice a month, according to the lawsuit, and a business representative from the union visits the plant weekly.

“Many union members are frustrated that their dues are used to underwrite the union’s work for non-members who pay nothing,” the lawsuit says.

The Idaho Attorney General’s office has filed a motion asking the federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit, the Spokesman-Review (http://bit.ly/2bYtr5I) reported.

If the union wins the case, the right-to-work law will remain in Idaho, said Piotrowski, who is also the Democratic candidate challenging Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador for the state’s 1st District congressional seat. But a winning case would mean workers could be required to pay fees to unions in some cases, Piotrowski said.

State attorneys, however, contend the union’s constitutional argument is misplaced. Even if the union’s claims were accurate, Deputy Idaho Attorney General Clay Smith wrote in court documents, the union’s target is wrong. The case should be against the federal law that requires representation of all employees in a bargaining unit, not with Idaho’s state law banning union fees for non-members.


Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com