KY Union Power At Risk With Incoming Republican Governor

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Efforts in the state to outlaw forced union dues have likely gotten a huge boost, following Tuesday night’s election of Republican businessman Matt Bevin as governor of Kentucky.

Bevin is the first Republican governor in the state since 2007. He was able to beat Democratic Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway. The win is looking to become a huge victory for groups trying to ban mandatory union dues or fees as a condition of employment. The policy is most commonly known as right-to-work. It has passed in 25 states.

Republicans in the state Senate and officials in several counties have been fighting for the policy. At an Oct. 29 luncheon, a panel of state lawmakers argued it could greatly help Kentucky businesses. During the panel, Republican State Rep. Adam Koenig SAID the issue will come down to the governors race. Bevin supports right-to-work laws while Conway doesn’t.

“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 said at the time. “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.”

Bevin will likely make the policy an early priority, according to Politico. Prior to his victory, there was very little state lawmakers were able to do. Outgoing Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear could easily veto any right-to-work proposal, and proponents didn’t have enough support among their fellow lawmakers to overturn the veto.

Unwilling to wait, some county officials began taking the issue into their own hands. Supporters of the policy have been getting counties to pass their own right-to-work ordinances. Thus far, several counties have. The initiative all started back in December. At the time, Warren became the first country to enact the policy in the entire country.

Several unions 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 that 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 involved, the policy violates federal law under the National Labor Relations Act. They say only states can decide whether they want to enact such a policy.

Critics of the policy often claim unions are necessary for workplace fairness, better wages and benefits. Laws, therefore, should make it easier for workers to join and for unions to organize. The problem is that 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.

It is also not completely true that unions keep safety standards up. The labor movement did indeed help historically to bring fundamental workplace protections. Today, many such protections are provided or required by the government.

Bevin takes office Dec. 8.

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