Story by Matthew Parks, Staff writer
On Jan. 4, Kentucky House Republicans passed two bills targeting labor unions and officially making Kentucky a “Right to Work” state.
The new bills primarily affected labor unions in the state, as well as Kentucky’s prevailing wage law by:
- Banning union membership as a condition of employment.
- Banning employers from collecting union dues from workers’ paychecks without written consent from the employee.
- Preventing public employees from going on strike.
- Repealing Kentucky’s prevailing-wage law, which guaranteed higher wages for workers on construction projects paid with public money.
The battle over right to work laws has been ongoing for years, with both sides claiming that they are better for the worker. The issue has, however, been more prominent in Kentucky than in most states because unions primarily consist of construction and labor workers, a field that is more densely packed in Kentucky than in many other states.
Despite this, the staggering number of people involved in the issue had lead to a pseudo-stalemate for quite some time. After the November elections, however, Republicans in Kentucky’s House of Representatives gained a supermajority, and the bills passed quickly.
While only time will tell what effects this new legislation will have on the Kentucky labor industry, union workers and contract laborers are outraged by the new bills.
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations claimed in one 2016 study that states with right to work legislation have lower wages and incomes, lower rates of health insurance coverage, higher poverty rates, and higher workplace fatality rates.
Supporters, however, argue that right to work laws help negate alleged corruption of labor unions and stop stagnation in the economy that they believe is created by prevailing wage laws.
According to the National Right to Work Foundation, which serves as a non-profit organization that provides free legal aid to employees, “whose human and civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses,” right to work laws protect employees.
The NRWF released a statement following the bill’s passing offering legal counsel to Kentucky employees wishing to utilize the new laws and explaining the new rights provided by them.
Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, released a similar statement thanking Governor Bevin and other legislators for making Kentucky a right to work state.
“The Kentucky Right to Work law will free tens of thousands of Kentucky workers who have been forced to pay tribute to a union boss just for the privilege of getting and keeping a job so they can provide for their families,” Mix said. “The law will also provide a much needed economic boost for Kentucky.”