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Local Right-to-Work Laws Grow; Kentucky AFL-CIO Prepares for Litigation


After Republicans failed to take control of the Kentucky House of Representatives in November’s election, five counties have now passed local right-to-work ordinances in the face of grim prospects in Frankfort. But Attorney General Jack Conway says the ordinances don’t have legal standing and the Kentucky AFL-CIO president says litigation is coming.

Jim Waters is the president of the Bluegrass Institute, a right-leaning think tank. Waters says he has personally attended fiscal court meetings at four of the five counties that have taken up right-to-work ordinances, including Fulton County. Four of the five counties - Hardin, Simpson, Todd, Warren - have Republican judge-executives.

Credit Bluegrass Institute
Jim Waters

Waters hopes the local ordinances will, one way or another, lead to a statewide law which would allow people to work for businesses with organized labor without paying union dues.

“So, the idea here is to apply an appropriate kind of pressure to the state to act," Waters said. "Also, though, to give legislators some cover. If legislators represent areas where these counties are passing right-to-work laws, I think they have a good case to make to their fellow legislators that, hey, ‘We need to go ahead and just allow everybody to have this opportunity’."

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s office issued an opinion last month stating, "local governments have no power to enact right-to-work ordinances, as they are pre-empted by the National Labor Relations Act."

Kentucky AFL-CIO president William Londrigan calls the ordinances an illegal overreach and says a court case will be filed “very shortly." 

“Certainly there will be a response in the courts as this is a legal issue and we will respond appropriately," Londrigan said. "We are working on that element at the present time.”

UPDATE: As of Thursday morning, AFL-CIO members say they have filed suit in Federal Court against the right-to-work ordinance.

Right-to-work legislation did pass the state Senate last week, but is not expected to get very far in the Democrat-controlled House

John Null is the host and creator of Left of the Dial. From 2013-2016, he also served as a reporter in the WKMS newsroom.
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