A panel of Kentucky lawmakers argued Thursday the state should outlaw mandatory union dues or fees as a condition of employment.
The policy is better known as right-to-work. It’s law in 25 states with several others currently considering it. At a luncheon hosted by the Covington Business Council, a panel of four state lawmakers asserted the policy is something Kentucky should enact as well. The panel included Mississippi and Kentucky state Sens. Chris McDaniel and Damon Thayer as well as Kentucky state Reps. Adam Koenig and Arnold Simpson. Democrats like Simpson, for the most part, tend not to agree with right-to-work laws.
“The best thing that we can do is to create an environment where Kentucky is a place where companies want to come and to operate,” McDaniel said according to The River City News. “Let’s keep our tax rates as low as humanly possible. We cannot be fooled that we are on an island. We are surrounded by competitors.”
For Koenig, the issue comes down to the upcoming governors race. Republican businessman Matt Bevin is facing off against Democratic Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway for the office. Bevin supports right-to-work while Conway doesn’t. Conway has served as the attorney general of Kentucky since 2008.
“If Jack Conway is the next governor, then probably a lot of business issues will be status quo in a lot of ways and some people view that as a good thing,” Koenig also noted according to The River City News. “Some people don’t. If Matt Bevin wins, I think you might see more of a push for Right to Work and repealing the prevailing wage, which [would] save untold taxpayer dollars.”
Critics of the policy say reining in union power will hurt the working poor. They often claim unions are necessary for workplace fairness, better wages and benefits. Laws, therefore, should make it easier for workers to join and unions to organize. The problem is, not all economists are in agreement. Right-to-work laws do not ban unions or prevent workers from freely joining them. It simply means workers have the choice not to pay dues.
The disagreement has recently played out in a policy dispute between The Heritage Foundation and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). While EPI claims workers in right-to-work states get paid less on average, Heritage says the assertion is misleading. According to Heritage, EPI needs to adjust for cost of living. Once that is factored in, the difference in wages disappears. Essentially, right-to-work states may have lower wages but it costs less to live in them.
It is also not completely true that unions keep safety standards up. The labor movement did indeed help historically to bring fundamental workplace protections. Nowadays, though, such protections are provided or required by the government.
While the statewide debate continues, Kentucky has already tackled right-to-work in a different way. Supporters of the policy have been getting counties to pass their own right-to-work ordinances. Thus far, several counties have. It all started back in December. At the time Warren County approved a right-to-work ordinance, making it the first county-level mandate in the country.
Several unions, however, have sued arguing counties are not allowed to enact their own right-to-work laws. The lawsuit, though focused on Hardin, ultimately seeks to set a precedent which dismantles the ordinances in any and all other counties. 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 say only states can decide whether they want to enact such a policy.
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