The AFL-CIO and Teamsters Union filed a lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court Thursday challenging the constitutionality of a new law that prohibits unions from requiring employees to pay dues in a unionized workplace.
The lawsuit argues the law is discriminatory and unconstitutional because it treats unions differently than other organizations that collect fees or dues to cover the costs of the benefits it provides. It asks a judge to temporarily block the law while the lawsuit proceeds.
“We think we’ve got strong arguments on constitutional grounds related to equal treatment,” said Bill Londrigan, the president of Kentucky’s AFL-CIO.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, both said they believe the law complies with Kentucky’s constitution and credited it for an uptick in economic development announcements in recent months.
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“I am confident that Kentucky will continue to be a right-to-work state for the foreseeable future,” Stivers said in a written statement.
Amanda Stamper, a spokeswoman for Gov. Matt Bevin, called the lawsuit political.
“It’s shameful that groups like the AFL-CIO and Teamsters are playing political games at a time when Kentucky is experiencing unprecedented economic development growth,” Stamper said. “This frivolous lawsuit threatens to hurt Kentucky’s families, robbing them of high-paying job opportunities.”
Bevin and Labor Secretary Derrick Ramsey are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Lawsuits challenging similar “right-to-work” laws in other states have had mixed success in the courts.
Opponents of the bill say that it produces “free riders” in union workplaces — people who benefit from the presence of a union but don’t contribute — limiting the bargaining power of the union.
“It decreases our ability to adequately represent our membership and achieve a good collective bargaining agreement,” Londrigan said.
Protesters lined the halls of the state Capitol in January as legislators considered the law, at one point even arguing directly with the governor, to little avail. The bill easily passed the Republican-led House and Senate.
The law went into effect immediately after Gov. Matt Bevin signed it in January. At the time, Bevin said the law would help bring jobs to the state.
“This will mean incredible new opportunities for the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Bevin said in a Facebook video.
Craig Bouchard, who recently announced a $1.3 billion investment in a steel plant in Greenup County, said the legislation was a significant factor in his decision to locate in Kentucky.
“If Kentucky was not a right-to-work state, it wouldn’t have gotten on the list,” Bouchard said.