By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT — The sponsor of a right-to-work law in Kentucky knew it had no chance of passing a House committee Thursday.
But that didn’t stop Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, the House Minority Leader, and several others from making their case before the House Labor and Industry Committee in a room filled to overflowing, mostly with union members who oppose the measure.
Such legislation prohibits unions from charging dues to nonunion employees at workplaces represented by unions. Proponents say it allows workers the voluntary choice of whether to join a union, but federal court rulings already prohibit compulsory union membership ― although nonunion members may still be assessed a fee to help pay union negotiating expenses.
Opponents of such legislation say it’s designed to destroy unions.
Hoover, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce chief David Adkisson, Greg Mourad, of the National Right to Work Committee, and others tried to persuade lawmakers the measure would mean more jobs for Kentucky. They repeatedly assured the committee the bill is not an antiunion measure.
It didn’t work. The committee voted 15-4 against sending the bill out of committee, and two Republicans voted with the majority. Most took time to explain their votes in favor of collective bargaining, drawing applause from the union members.
“I am confident some will attempt to demonize myself and others that say this legislation is anti-union, but it’s not,” Hoover said. Adkisson said he is “absolutely convinced” Kentucky has lost out to other right-to-work states in recruiting manufacturers to the state.
They cited statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Department of Commerce which indicate Kentucky lags economically behind other states, including most of the 24 which have passed right-to-work laws.
Mourad said unions have “tyrannical power” to “compel an individual to join a private organization and support its goals.”
But Kentucky AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan rebutted their argument with statistics of his own, usually from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and he quoted federal law, the U.S. Supreme Court and the website of right-to-work proponents to counter Mourad’s contention of forced union membership.
Londrigan scoffed at proponents’ contention the legislation isn’t anti-union, quoting former President Harry Truman who said such legislation was “like saying you are for motherhood but against children.”
Londrigan also cited press stories and government data which indicate more businesses closed in Indiana, Michigan and Tennessee in the year after each passed right-to-work laws than the number of new businesses opened and that unemployment went up in each state.
The room was packed with union members, and they cheered several of Londrigan’s comments and statements by sympathetic lawmakers. In the end, the measure failed 15-4, with all Democrats voting against the measure while two Republicans, C.B. Embry and Jim Stewart, joined them. Four Republicans ― Lynn Bechler, Regina Bunch, Toby Herald and Adam Koenig ― voted for the bill.
Later Hoover issued a statement saying his bill would help Kentucky compete with such RTW states as Tennessee.
He accused opponents of a political agenda, although Republicans will likely try to use the Democrats’ votes against them in some elections this fall, something Hoover alluded to in the statement.
“Simply put, those who oppose it are placing their own partisan political needs above good public policy that will benefit Kentucky much like it has benefited other states where right to work has been enacted. Because of that, we will remain less competitive until such time Frankfort and the House of Representatives changes direction.”
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.