A House panel has passed right-to-work legislation that would prohibit Kentuckians from being required to join labor unions as a condition of employment.
House Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown and Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, would prohibit mandatory membership in or payment of dues to labor organizations with few exceptions involving federal law and agreements entered into before HB 1 would take effect. Violators would be subject to prosecution.
The legislation passed the House Economic Development and Workforce Investment Committee favorably after an hour-long discussion that began with comments from Governor Matt Bevin. “Jobs come from private sector employers and they’re incentivized by the kinds of things you’re going to hear in coming days,” said Bevin. “This is a zero-sum game.”
Right-to-work bills have been filed several times in past legislative sessions said Speaker Hoover, who told the committee that HB 1 will give employees the ability to negotiate benefits and wages directly with their employer without being part of a union.
“I personally have no problem with an individual opting to be part of a labor union,” said Hoover. “… But government shouldn’t stand in the way of someone who opts not to join a union.” He said HB 1 would make Kentucky the 27th Right to Work state in the country, putting it on par with most Southern states as well as Indiana and labor-heavy Michigan.
Hoover said private sector employment in right-to-work states increased over 17 percent between 2001 and 2013 compared to around an 8 percent increase in non-right-to-work states like Kentucky.
Those opposing the bill included Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, who told the committee that tax code changes and the paring-down of regulatory burdens could do more for Kentuckians than right-to-work legislation. “I don’t believe personally a right-to-work law is (a) silver bullet,” he said.
Also speaking against the bill was Kentucky Center for Economic Policy analyst Anna Baumann who said Kentucky’s manufacturing sector is strong without right-to-work—Kentucky has the fifth-highest manufacturing employment as a share of total employment nationally, she said. But Hoover, backed by officials from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce as he gave his testimony, said data shows the economy is stronger in right-to-work states.
“Economic development is not only my primary, but my sole motivation in proposing this legislation,” said Hoover.
HB 1 would also prohibit public employees in Kentucky from engaging in work strikes. The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.