Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin signed a right-to-work measure into law Saturday making his state the latest to pass the policy.
Kentucky Republicans have tried numerous times in recent years to pass right-to-work. The policy outlaws mandatory union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Democrats have been able to prevent its passage but the recent election gave supporters enough votes in the legislature to finally get it through. Bevin announced Sunday that the measure has been signed into law.
“We have a lot of neighbors and competition for recruiting jobs,” Kentucky Republican Party spokesman Tres Watson told InsideSources prior to its passage. “This is about staying competitive with our neighboring states and arming Kentucky with a full toolbox to help create jobs.”
Republicans introduced the measure Tuesday at the start of the legislative session. They were able to quickly get it through both legislative chambers before eventually sending it off to the governor’s desk. Kentucky Democrats, labor unions, and other opponents are warning the measure is just an underhanded way to hurt unions and workers.
“Kentucky’s working families are suffering,” the Kentucky State AFL-CIO posted online. “They are facing employment, health care access, and education challenges. The Kentucky GOP not only ignored their plight, they made them worse.”
Kentucky labor unions also held a protest hours before the bill was signed into law. Those opposed have argued that strong unions are needed to properly protect workers against abusive employers. The National Right to Work Committee (NRTW) and other supporters contest is actually about giving workers the freedom to choose.
“A Kentucky Right to Work law would free thousands of Kentucky workers who have been forced to pay tribute to a union boss just for the privilege of getting and keeping a job,” NRTW President Mark Mix said in a statement provided to InsideSources. “The law would also provide a much-needed economic boost for Kentucky.”
Kentucky Democratic Party spokesman Daniel Lowry argues the economic benefit is grossly overstated. He notes the policy actually doesn’t do much to attract businesses. Additionally, he questions those businesses that do consider the policy a top priority.
“That is a company that wants to pay their workers as low a wage as they can and who likely wants to cut corners on safety,” Lowry told InsideSources prior to the bill’s passage. “So the question is, are those the kind of companies we really want here in Kentucky. We want high paying jobs here.”
Watson argues that much of what has been said about the policy is just to scare workers. He adds it doesn’t undermine worker rights and isn’t even about destroying unions. Watson is hopeful the law will result in more jobs for both union and nonunion workers.
“The unions are still going to collectively bargain; they’re still going to be active in workplaces,” Watson said. “It’s not about taking away rights that any worker has. We want union jobs, nonunion jobs. We want all the jobs. It’s simply about opening up the playing field for everybody.”
Republicans passing the measure puts an end to a fight that is years in the making. Opponents have little chance to overturn it with supporters controlling the state government. Lowry is hopeful voters will see how destructive the law is and give them the chance to repeal it after the next election.
“I think the only way we are going to be able to fight this is to win back control of the legislature,” Lowry said. “That’s going to have to happen when working-class folks, here in Kentucky, see the damages that result from these laws, and once they see that I think a lot of folks are going to be upset.”
Lowry adds the problem is the law will still have the chance to do damage before it can be stopped. Nevertheless, Kentucky residents will have the chance to see firsthand whether the law will promote freedom and job growth or undermine their rights as workers.