Politics & Government

Judge dismisses unions’ attempt to block Kentucky’s right-to-work law

A Franklin Circuit Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a 2017 law that prohibited unions from requiring employees to pay dues in a unionized workplace.

In the lawsuit, filed by the AFL-CIO and Teamsters Union, union advocates thought they had a winning argument that the law is discriminatory because it treats unions differently than other organizations that collect fees or dues to provide services.

Justice Thomas Wingate disagreed.

“The legislation does not treat unions differently than similarly situated organizations because unions are unique, federally created entities,” Wingate wrote in his dismissal.

In the past few years, several similar lawsuits have been dismissed in states that have passed the so-called right-to-work laws. Wingate also cited a similar lawsuit in Indiana, Sweeney v. Pence, where the court ruled that Indiana’s right-to-work law did not take union’s property.

“Kentucky’s limitation of employees from whom unions collect dues is not a taking of union property but rather is a prevention of Kentucky employees paying compulsory union dues,” Wingate wrote. “The takings issue is more apt to be brought before federal law makers and federal judiciaries.”

Kentucky became one of 28 states to have a right-to-work law when it passed the bill despite heavy union protests in the first week of the 2017 legislative session. In 2015, 11 percent of wage and salary workers in Kentucky were members of a union.

Gov. Matt Bevin, one of those conservatives who has championed the law, celebrated Wingate’s ruling.

“The Court’s ruling confirmed what we already knew: Kentucky’s right-to-work law rests on a sound legal bedrock and is an essential economic driver for our state, bringing unprecedented job growth and a record $9.2 billion in corporate investment in 2017,” Bevin said. “This weak attempt to stop Kentucky’s economic growth through legal challenges has been appropriately smacked down.”

Bill Londrigan, the president of Kentucky’s chapter of the AFL-CIO, said the group plans to appeal the ruling.

“The Circuit Court failed to consider the undisputed testimony of nationally recognized experts in labor economics who uniformly proved that RTW laws lower wages, hurt workers and fail to add new jobs,” Londrigan said in a written statement. “Instead these laws serve to increase profits and weaken the strongest voice workers have to speak on their behalf.”

Daniel Desrochers: 502-875-3793, @drdesrochers, @BGPolitics