Thursday, January 5, 2017

Right to work bill, repeal of prevailing wage pass House

Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion
HB 1: Yes
HB 3: Yes
Legislation that would make Kentucky the 27th right-to-work state by outlawing mandatory membership in a labor union as a condition of employment passed the House today by a vote of 58-39.

Supporters say House Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown and Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, would boost jobs by allowing employees to negotiate benefits and wages directly with their employers. Committee testimony on the bill yesterday said job growth in right-to-work states has been more than double that in non-right-to-work states like Kentucky in recent years.

Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, whose grandfather worked for 43 years in the coal mines, said he voted in support of HB 1 to try and bring jobs to his district where, he said, 3,000 people are out of work.

“I reluctantly vote yes,” said Fugate, adding some of his constituents are for right-to-work and some are against it. Fugate said he isn’t against unions, but “our coal miners are not working in the mountains in case anybody didn’t know that.”

“I’ll work my rear end off to make sure that I do everything I can for them to get jobs so they don’t have to move to another state or another place to provide for their families,” Fugate said.

Opponents of right-to-work legislation like HB 1, however, claim such bills weaken wages of the working and middle classes. Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively told House members that studies show right-to-work legislation hurts the wages of working men and women in Kentucky.

“I proudly stand with my union brothers and sisters and all workers across this Commonwealth and vote no,” said Jenkins.

Also passed by the House today was HB 3, sponsored by House Speaker Hoover and Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger. That legislation, which passed the House 57-40, would repeal the state’s prevailing wage law which guarantees an hourly base “prevailing” wage to construction workers on certain public works projects. Koenig said the process for determining that base wage “is unlikely to yield wages that are representative of market wages.”

Koenig said the only reason the bill was filed is to save the taxpayers money. “That is our motivation for filing this bill,” he said.

Among those voting against the bill was Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, who said prevailing wage was designed to ensure quality work done by local workers.

HB 1 and HB 3 now go to the Senate for its consideration. They both include emergency provisions, which make them take effect immediately if signed into law.