The state’s 2017 right-to-work law has survived its initial court challenge.
Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate has dismissed a suit filed by the AFL-CIO and Teamsters Union challenging the constitutionality of the right-to-work law, which was one of the first laws enacted by the Republican-controlled 2017 Kentucky General Assembly. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin made a right-to-work law one of his top legislative goals.
In the lawsuit, 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. But Judge 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 similar right-to-work laws. Wingate also cited a similar lawsuit in Indiana, Sweeny 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 lawmakers 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.
Not surprisingly, Governor Bevin 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. That’s its right, of course, but Kentucky was not exactly plowing new ground when it enacted a law removing the requirement that all workers in firms that have recognized unions must pay dues to those unions. The right-to-work law makes union membership optional even in so-called “union shops.”
Right-to-work laws enacted in other states have survived repeated legal challenges to them. There is no reason to think it will be any different in Kentucky.
This state’s still new right-to-work law is a result of the changing political climate in Frankfort. As we see it, the only way to return to the way things used to be is by having a pro-union majority again in the General Assembly, and at this point, that seems unlikely.