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Redgrass State: KY GOP Stirs Election Year Pot with Introduction of “Right-to-Work”

Jeff Hoover

Jeff Hoover

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Kentucky House GOP leader Jeff Hoover has introduced a bill that would make the Bluegrass State the 25th “Right-to-Work” state in the nation.  Democrats currently hold a 54-46 edge in the House, meaning passage is unlikely.  Still, the aggressive move makes “Right-to-Work” — and general anti-union sentiment in a state that has enjoyed Democratic leadership of late — a major topic of debate ahead of upcoming midterm elections.  

Opponents of “Right-to-Work” know it’s true intent, but Hoover has waxed predictable, saying he hopes to “attract jobs to his state” with the anti-worker law:

“You talk to economic development directors around the state, the biggest obstacle they have in attracting new business and new jobs to Kentucky is the fact that we do not have right-to-work,” Hoover said. “And it puts Kentucky at a competitive disadvantage in trying to locate new businesses to the state.”

A coy ploy from a man who is merely joining the union-bashing chorus of Southern Republicans.  For Hoover, introducing “Right-to-Work” strengthens his GOP credentials.  He is the longest-serving Republican leader in the history of the statehouse and in 2007 ran as Lieutenant Governor on a ticket that opposed incumbent Gov. Ernie Fletcher in the primaries.  Embattled current Senator Mitch McConnell and his primary opponent, Matt Bevin, both favor “Right-to-Work” legislation.  

According to Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer (R), if Republicans are successful in this year’s elections, “Right-to-Work” will be their top priority:

“With a Republican Senate, if we can flip the house to republican and then elect a Republican governor (in 2015), we can make this state better in 30 days,” Thayer said.

Unfortunately, voting trends suggest many working class Kentuckians will vote Republican and potentially support this legislation due to the polarizing politics surrounding unions.  

Unions have made gains in Kentucky, to be sure. In 2013, 11.2 percent of the state’s wage and salary workers were unionized, a sharp rise from 2008 when unions represented only 8.6 percent of the workforce.  

Among the many already debunked but still being hurled talking points are the job-creating potential of “Right-to-Work” and how it enables forced union membership.  But the latter isn’t even legal, Kentucky AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan explains:  

“It hurts our financial ability to represent all workers. The whole goal of this thing is to undermine our ability to effectively represent our members.They claim that we are forcing people to be in a union.That’s a complete mis-truth. We cannot force anybody to be a member of a union. It’s against the law. The Supreme Court decided that back in 1963.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat, has promised that the legislation will not pass the lower chamber.  But organizing worker-supportive politicians and constituencies will be vital in order to stay ahead of the PR blitz the GOP is expected to unleash this election year.  Awareness about the true impact of this sweeping legislative change (lower wages, diminished representation, lack of safety and training) is crucial to turning out the right results at the ballot box. As Stumbo said following Hoover’s announcement, “It’s really a right to work for less law.  I think Kentucky workers deserve better than that.”


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