A U.S. federal judge has ruled in a Kentucky case that efforts similar to those proposed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to allow local communities to enact anti-worker right-to-work laws are illegal. This is the second ruling against a local community trying to subvert federal labor law.
A union security agreement simply states that the workers will either join the union and pay dues or, having a federally-protected right not to join the union, will make a “fair share” payment to cover the union’s costs of bargaining for all the workers, members and non-members alike who all share in the benefits negotiated by the union. A 14-page order from U.S. District Judge David Hale declared that the law does not allow county governments to establish ordinances that prohibit union-security agreements between employers and unions that require employees to join or pay dues to a union.
Hale’s ruling said that only states have the authority to enact right-to-work laws.
A right-to-work ordinance passed last year in Hardin County, KY, was challenged in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky by nine unions that represent workers in that county.
They Kentucky counties of Warren, Butler, Simpson, Logan and five other counties passed similar ordinances and joined the lawsuit as defendants. Warren County passed its ordinance in December 2014.
Plaintiffs representing the unions claimed that right-to-work ordinances violated the National Labor Relations Act, which permits union-security agreements but also allows “state or territorial” laws, commonly known as right-to-work laws, to prohibit such agreements.
Attorneys representing Hardin County and the co-defendants asserted that provisions in state law allowed counties to regulate commerce and promote economic growth, and thereby establish local right-to-work ordinances.
Hale heard arguments from both sides in a hearing held in August in Louisville, determining ultimately that the section of the National Labor Relations Act that exempts states or territories from union-security agreements does not extend to counties or municipalities.
This is the second time a judge has thrown out a local right-to-work law in Kentucky. The first time was in 1965 in Shelbyville. But since then, the Kentucky legislature has delegated some powers to local governments, allowing them to act on the state’s behalf. That’s why local governments say they have the authority to pass local right-to-work laws, even though federal law says only states can do that.
“The defendants skip past the statute’s reference to ‘any State or Territory.’ Instead, they rely on carefully selected quotations from two Supreme Court cases unrelated to the (federal law),” Hale wrote.
(Information from the Bowling Green Daily News and the Lexington Herald Leader.)