‘Right to work’ hasn’t worked as promised for Kentucky manufacturing jobs

It’s been almost three years since Jan. 9, 2017 when Gov. Matt Bevin signed the right to work for less law which was rammed through the legislature during the first week of the 2017 session with an “emergency” clause so that it would become law immediately upon being signed by Bevin. It was claimed by Bevin, proponents in the legislature, business interests and economic development specialists that passing right to work for less would open the flood gates to out-of-state and foreign investments in manufacturing and create huge numbers of high-paying manufacturing jobs.

It’s time to see if the “emergency” to enact right to work for less measures up to glorious claims of a Kentucky manufacturing jobs bonanza. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) during the 32-month period beginning January 2017 when Bevin signed the right to work for less legislation and August 2019, Kentucky’s manufacturing employment increased by a paltry 4,000 jobs or just 1.6%. Even more telling is the fact that during the 32-month period immediately prior to passage of right to work for less the BLS reports that 15,800 manufacturing jobs were created for an increase of 6.7%. That’s four times as many new manufacturing created just prior to passage of right to work for less!

While claims of greatly increased manufacturing jobs was the public goal of right to work for less, another less talked about goal is to create and stoke divisions in unionized workplaces by dividing workers between those who pay union dues and those who do not yet reap the same wages, benefits and grievance procedures as those paying dues. The obvious intent is to undermine or weaken union solidarity and the ability of workers to undertake effective unified job actions to counterbalance management demands during negotiations, resulting in diminished bargaining leverage and less beneficial contracts.

Those hoping that right to work for less would have a deleterious impact on collective bargaining and union solidarity must be very disappointed since the occurrence of successful strikes and job actions in Kentucky are at their highest level in many years. During the past two years workers have gone on strike at Oracle Packaging in Louisville, Kingsford Charcoal in Burnside, Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg and Cox’s Creek, AT&T statewide and General Motors in Bowling Green and have stood together in solidarity to enforce their demands for fair collective bargaining agreements.

Gov. Bevin’s support for right to work for less makes clear his disdain for unions and workers alike. His stalwart support for the interests of his wealthy business buddies should motivate all workers to replace Matt Bevin with someone who understands and appreciates the value of unions, collective bargaining and workers’ rights: Vote Andy Beshear for govenor on Nov. 5.

Bill Londrigan is president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO.