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Right to Work Bills Surface in the Kentucky House

Representative Jim DeCesare (R-Bowling Green) sponsored four bills, HB 308, 309, 311, and 312, that, if passed, would add Kentucky to the growing list of “right to work” states in the country. The House Labor and Industry Committee heard the bills on February 12th, but no vote was taken. All four are currently posted in committee.

House Bill 308 is entitled “The Kentucky Right to Work Act.” It removes the requirement that anyone employed in Kentucky be forced to become or remain a member of a labor organization or pay dues to any third party union or organization.

House Bill 309 seeks to add a new section to KRS 65 which would remove the provision requiring a labor agreement on projects for the Commonwealth, cities, counties, consolidated local governments, districts and public agencies.

House Bill 311 removes the construction of any elementary, secondary or post -secondary education buildings from the definition of ‘public works’ under KRS 337.010.

House Bill 312 essentially repeals all definitions of prevailing wage. It removes all language related to the various definitions, pay schedule, and penalties related to Kentucky’s prevailing wage under several Kentucky statutes. Further, it eliminates Kentucky’s Prevailing Wage Review Board. It also changes the amount paid to a master electrician for an inspection from the prevailing wage scale to a wage equivalent with what other electricians are paid in the region for inspections.

The basic tenet of right to work laws is that employees cannot be forced to join a union or pay union dues in order to retain their jobs. Under federal labor law, employers and unions can agree to require that workers be members of the unions to hold a job—such an agreement creates a “closed shop.” But states have the ability to override that if they pass laws specifically banning such contracts.

Proponents argue right to work laws create benefits such as faster per capita income growth, faster growth in manufacturing and non-agricultural jobs, and lower unemployment rates. Opponents claim right to work states have lower employee wages and reductions in health and pension benefits.

Currently, there are twenty-four right to work states. In 2012, both Indiana and Michigan signed such bills into law. A subsequent Indiana lawsuit challenging the right to work law was filed by union members and was dismissed in January by a federal judge. We will continue to track these bills in the General Assembly and will post any developments here.

This article is intended as a summary of proposed state law and does not constitute legal advice.

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