Kentucky’s Latest Right-To-Work Experiment Has Unions Lawyered Up And Ready To Fight

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Labor unions will appear in court Tuesday to fight a new movement in Kentucky: right-to-work laws adopted at the county level.

It all started back in December, when Warren County voted to adopt a right-to-work ordinance, making it the first county-level mandate in the country. The policy, which outlaws union dues as a condition of employment, has traditionally been employed as a purely state or federal level.

After Warren passed its own version of the law, several more counties, including Fulton, Hardin, Simpson and Todd, did as well. The group ProtectMyPayCheck has been leading much of the effort. The lawsuit, though focused on Hardin, ultimately seeks to set a precedent which dismantles the ordinances in any and all other counties.

“We needed to file the suit someplace,” Buddy Cutler, the attorney representing the unions, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “There are a lot of unions and industry in Hardin.”

The lawsuit was filed back in January. According to the United Automobile Workers and the eight other unions behind the lawsuit, the policy violates federal law under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). They argue only states can decide whether they want to enact such a policy. Matt Patterson, executive director for Center for Worker Freedom (CWF), is optimistic the courts will side with the counties.

“We’ll have a decision sometime in September,” Patterson told TheDCNF. “We feel very good about what is happening in Kentucky.”

CWF has helped support the effort through public awareness campaigns. The group advocates for workers having the right to choose whether they want to be in a union.

“Our role in this has been public awareness and education,” Patterson stated. “It’s great for business but even if it wasn’t, it’s just the right thing to do.”

Much of the debate centers on a policy known as “home rule.” Essentially if a state has a home rule statute, localities like cities and counties can enact their own economic policies. The policies just cannot interfere with existing state law. The unions argue the “home rule” excludes right-to-work laws.

“The law doesn’t allow political subdivisions to enact this on their own,” Cutler stated. “Only two courts have ruled on this issue and two courts have ruled in our favor.”

The two previous cases out New Mexico and Kentucky, however, may not matter depending on current state law. The Kentucky case was decided back in the 1960s before the current home rule policy was adopted. Though the cases were similar, there were several key differences, like the focus being on cities as opposed to counties.

“Home rule is used all the time,” Patterson argued. “The Kentucky case was handed down before the current home rule statute was in place.”

Brent Yessin, executive director of ProtectMyPayCheck, says the home rule argument may not even matter. What really matters is whether Kentucky has the right to allow its own counties to enact such policies.

“The unions argue the state couldn’t delegate such powers to the counties,” Yessin told TheDCNF. “It’s a really straight forward issue.”

Yessin says he is optimistic the courts will rule that Kentucky state authorities can legally delegate labor law authority down to the county level.

The movement has gained support in the past year. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, has advocated for localities in his own state to adopt the policy, and the libertarian activist group Americans for Prosperity contribute $50,000 to help fight the legal opposition from unions.

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