Would make membership in a labor union optional
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Jan. 6, 2017) — Legislation that would make Kentucky a right-to-work state was approved today by the Senate State and Local Government Committee.
The proposal, which would make membership in a labor union optional rather than mandatory for workers at unionized workplaces, now goes to the full Senate for consideration. The House of Representatives has already approved the measure, known as House Bill 1, a designation given to House leadership’s top priority bill.
Testifying in support of the measure at today’s meeting, House Speaker Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) a primary sponsor of HB 1, said the legislation would boost Kentucky’s labor market.
“Right-to-work is simply the name given to the ability of an employee to negotiate his or her wages and negotiate his or her benefits directly with the employer without being compelled to be a member of a labor union,” said Hoover. “I don’t see why government should stand in the way of a worker opting to not join and be given the ability to negotiate on their own if they so choose.”
Hoover said private sector employment grew 17.4 percent in right-to-work states between 2001 and 2013, more than double the 8.2 percent in states that don’t have right-to-work laws.
Rep. Jim DeCesare (R-Bowling Green) a primary sponsor of HB 1, said Kentucky has lost job-creating opportunities to other states that have right-to-work laws. “The governor has an initiative to make Kentucky the epicenter of advanced manufacturing in the world. … There’s no reason why we can’t expand our economic opportunities by passing right-to-work legislation,” he said.
Opponents of right-to work legislation testified that Kentucky’s manufacturing sector is already strong compared to neighboring right-to-work states.
“Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that among all states, Kentucky already has the fifth-highest manufacturing employment as a share of total jobs,” said Anna Bauman, a research and policy associate for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. “A larger share of Kentucky workers are in manufacturing than workers in both Virginia and Tennessee, two of our three neighbors with active right-to-work laws.”
Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, also testified against the right-to-work proposal, emphasizing that unions come to workplaces where a majority of eligible workers vote in favor of them.
“Workers have a variety of options if they are unwilling to financially support or become union members,” he said. “They have the freedom not to seek employment in unionized workplaces if they are displeased that a union was voted in to a workplace by a majority vote. In such cases, the individual can seek employment in the 89 percent of workplaces in Kentucky that are not unionized.”
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) predicted the state’s economy will quickly enjoy a boost if Kentucky becomes a right-to-work state.
“We will see the results very quickly across this commonwealth as the numbers, the leading economic indicators in this state, start pointing in the right direction,” he said.
House Bill 1 contains an emergency clause, meaning it would take effect immediately upon being signed into law by Gov. Matt Bevin, who has said he supports such a law.