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Muni-Lateral: Counties in KY Passing “Right-to-Work” Ordinances Despite State’s Opposition

Somehow this seems appropriate

Somehow this seems appropriate

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In Western Kentucky an ordinance at year’s end made Warren County the first county in the nation to pass a “Right-to-Work” law.  The decision was approved by Warren County Fiscal Court after magistrates passed the legislation on a 5-1 vote.  Warren County is home to the city of Bowling Green, where Chevy builds its Corvette line. 

While the state of Kentucky has remained free from the shackles of “Right-to-Work,” an aggressive agenda led by conservative think-tanks is creeping into smaller municipalities, like cities and counties, hoping to pass “Right-to-Work” on the local level.

A spokeswoman for Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway affirmed to that it is unclear whether it is legal for counties to pass such legislation.  Lawyers for the county argued that the “home rule law” allows the county to “regulate commerce and enact economic development.”  Conway will issue an opinion on the matter after his office does more research, he said.

The county level “Right-to-Work” law states that “no employee covered by the National Labor Relations Act need join or pay dues to a union or refrain from joining a union, as a condition of employment.”

Following the vote, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul issued a statement praising Warren County’s decision: “Local leaders will be able to attract and keep good quality jobs in the community while preserving the freedom to contract for employees and employers,”

Paul, a likely 2016 presidential candidate, introduced the National Right-to-Work Act in 2013.

Vice this week revealed that more ordinances have been passed while others are on the way:

To the alarm of labor groups, the coordinated effort by conservatives now threatens to push anti-union measures deep into places that have not passed statewide right-to-work laws. For years, national labor organizations like the AFL-CIO have successfully lobbied to keep the Kentucky legislature from passing right-to-work legislation. So workers in Warren County, home to a unionized Corvette plant, were stunned last month when the county court passed America’s first local right-to-work law. Since then, at least two other Kentucky counties have passed their own right-to-work ordinances. And documents obtained by VICE show that many more may follow.

Speaking to the AP, Eldon Renaud, President of Bowling Green’s United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2164 said, “the ordinance was bad for workers and would drive down wages.”  He further explained:

“It’s just a way for right-wing people to try to exert their influence in another way by trying to lessen the impact of people who have the right to join a union.”

The location of the first county to go “Right-to-Work,” Warren County, was no accident.  The UAW has a stronghold there.  And for now, thanks to the decision of a fiscal court, those workers will no longer have to pay their union dues. But Vice spoke to legal experts who are not convinced the decisions will hold up:

But labor law experts VICE spoke to last year expressed doubt that local right-to-work laws would survive the inevitable legal challenges against them. “In the private sector this would be clearly preempted under the National Labor Relations Act,” Lance Compa, a lecturer at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said. “States can enact these laws, but only states, and cities and counties cannot. I mean, they could do it, but it would only be symbolic, and it would be stopped in the court.”

The new laws in Kentucky could very well be the beginning of a battle that ultimately finds itself at the Supreme Court.


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