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Kentucky Labor Unions Take On So-Called ‘Right To Work’ Law

June 1st, 2017

Kentucky Labor Unions Take On So-Called ‘Right To Work’ Law By Lauren M. Hoye

On May 25, 2017, two labor unions in Kentucky instituted litigation in Kentucky state court seeking to strike down the state’s new so-called “Right To Work” Law. As background, Kentucky only just became a “Right To Work” state in January 2017. It, along with Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, is among the states that became “Right To Work” in recent years, after many years of allowing unions to require non-members to pay their fair share for the benefits of union representation. Now, under the “Right To Work” legislation passed earlier this year, bargaining unit members can freeload by declining to pay union dues or fees, while still reaping the benefits of being represented by a labor union.

That could potentially change, though, with the litigation filed on May 25. The complaint, filed by the Kentucky State AFL-CIO and Teamsters Local 89, claims that the new Kentucky law violates numerous provisions of the Kentucky state constitution, including the provision that prohibits an unconstitutional “taking.” The labor unions argue that the new law robs them of unreimbursed expenses for negotiating wages and benefits for workers who choose not to pay for such services, because under federal law, those unions are required to provide services to all workers in the union, not just those who elect to pay dues.

The lawsuit further alleges that there is no other Kentucky state law that requires an organization to give away its services for free, but that under the Kentucky law, labor unions must do exactly that. In treating labor unions differently than other organizations, the “Right To Work” law is discriminatory, alleges the complaint. For example, the law does not prohibit forced dues with respect to other member organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce or the Kentucky Bar Association. The complaint names as defendants Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and Labor Secretary Derrick Ramsey, and seeks to be certified as a class action.

Republicans who supported the “Right To Work” law in Kentucky oppose the litigation, claiming that the new law will create business in Kentucky. However, research suggests that “Right To Work” laws have no impact on boosting economic growth, and that there is no relationship between “Right To Work” laws and per capita income or state job growth. See Lafter, Gordon. “Right To Work”: The Wrong Answer for Michigan’s Economy. The Economic Policy Institute (Sept. 15, 2011). In fact, what the research shows is that “Right To Work” laws lower wages for both union and union workers, and decrease the likelihood that employees will get either health insurance or pensions through their jobs. Further, more people lack health insurance in states with “Right To Work” laws. The rate of workplace deaths is significantly higher in “Right To Work” states. And, “Right To Work” states have a higher poverty rate than free bargaining states.

Although Pennsylvania is currently a free bargaining state, Republicans in the Pennsylvania legislature are always introducing legislation aimed at weakening labor unions in our state. Further, litigation poised to reach the U.S. Supreme Court this year threatens to make the entire country “Right To Work” in the near future. For these reasons and others, the Pennsylvania labor and employment attorneys at Willig, Williams & Davidson will continue to monitor this important Kentucky case.


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