Counties Become The New Frontline In Right-To-Work Fight

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Counties are becoming the new battle ground in the fight to between unions and right-to-work activists.

It started back in December, when Warren County in Kentucky voted to adopt a right-to-work ordinance, making it the first in the country. The policy, which has passed in 25 states, has traditionally been seen as a state or federal issue– not local.

After Warren passed its own version of the law, which bans mandatory union dues or fees as a condition of employment, several more Kentucky counties, including Fulton, Hardin, Simpson and Todd, did as well. It also gained support from Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, who is advocating for localities in his own state to adopt the policy.

In a Thursday event hosted by economist James Sherk at the Heritage Foundation, Jason Nemes and Jim Waters argued that the policy is both economically and legally sound, despite a lawsuit against Hardin County.

Waters, the president of the libertarian Bluegrass Institute, focused on the economic benefits of right-to-work laws. Noting that states that have adopted the policy show significant job growth compared to other states, he argued companies are already looking at the right-to-work counties in Kentucky as a possible place to expand or relocate to.

Waters argues this is especially important because neighboring states like Tennessee and Virginia, which already have right-to-work laws, are outpacing Kentucky economically.

Nemes, a lawyer representing Hardin County, argued despite the lawsuit, the counties are within their rights to enact their own right-to-work laws because Kentucky has a “Home Rule” policy.

The Home Rule policy simply means the state government allows localities like cities and counties to adopt their own economic development laws so long as the laws don’t interfere with existing state law. But according to the United Automobile Workers and eight other unions that filed the lawsuit, the county right-to-work ordinance violated federal law under the National Labor Relations Act.

Nemes put forth two independent arguments against the lawsuit. First, he argues the Home Rule status allows the counties to adopt their own right-to-work laws because it doesn’t interfere with existing state or federal law. Second, he argues the National Labor Relations Act doesn’t forbid counties from adopting their own right-to-work laws for the same reason it doesn’t forbid states from doing so. He notes in Section 14b of of the act, it specifies not just states being allowed to do so but also territories.

A ruling by the court is expected sometime this summer.

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