Hardin County's right-to-work ordinance invalidated in federal court ruling

02/03/2016 10:48 PM

A federal judge struck down Hardin County’s right-to-work ordinance in an order Wednesday, ruling that states, not counties, can exempt themselves from portions of the National Labor Relations Act.

U.S. District Judge David Hale dismissed each of the county’s arguments for its ordinance, which passed Hardin County Fiscal Court Jan. 13 and barred unions from collecting fees from non-members.

“The NLRA preempts the right-to-work, hiring-hall, and dues-checkoff provisions of
Hardin County Ordinance 300,” Hale wrote in his order.

“Section 14(b) is the only exception to NLRA preemption of the field of labor relations, and it does not extend to counties or municipalities. Because Ordinance 300 does not fall under § 14(b)’s narrow exception, sections 4, 5, and 6 of the ordinance are preempted and thus invalid.”

Hale’s order can be viewed here: Hardin County federal lawsuit order.pdf

Hardin is one of 12 counties that passed right-to-work ordinances since December 2014. Nine labor unions filed the lawsuit against Hardin County the day after its fiscal court approved the overturned local law.

The county can appeal Hale’s ruling, which Kentucky State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan expects will happen as the case moves up the judicial ladder.

Londrigan said in an interview that his group was “not really so surprised” by the ruling “because we went into the case knowing that we had the intent of Congress, legal precedent and the law itself all on our side.”

“It really does have a significant impact on the ability of counties, municipalities to pass ordinances that affect the National Labor Relations Act both here in Kentucky and across the country,” he said.

“This ruling has a wide impact as far as the approach that the proponents have been taking, and we’ll certainly prevent them from using this county right-to-work ordinance as another tool to beat down wages and damage unions.”

One of those right-to-work proponents, Americans for Prosperity Kentucky, gave a $50,000 grant to a legal defense fund for counties that face legal action for passing right-to-work ordinances.

Julia Crigler, state director for AFP Kentucky, said her group disagreed with Hale’s ruling.

“Many scholars agree that Kentucky’s home-rule provision empowers counties to pass ordinances to secure and improve their economic development,” she said in a statement.

“We believe that right-to-work is a necessary and legally-sound policy for counties to take responsibility for their own economic success by providing employees freedom in the workplace. We will be urging state lawmakers to pass right-to-work legislation so that every worker in the state can enjoy the benefits of making union membership a personal decision.”

Brent Yessin, national counsel for Protect My Check, which is representing Hardin County in court, said in a statement that the issue may reach the Supreme Court. He called the ruling “unsurprising, given the politics.”

“The question the judge didn’t answer is, ‘when did the states lose the power to delegate their authority to their counties or cities?’” Yessin said in a statement. “The Supreme Court says it wasn’t 1934 when the Wagner Act was passed. It sure wasn’t 1947 with the Taft Hartley Amendments, because a unanimous Supreme Court said that legislation just confirmed that Congress has left the field to the states to regulate. So when was it?

“The truth is the states had the power to delegate their own authority in 1934 and nothing in the last 80 years has changed that, including this decision. The Kentucky General Assembly delegated that power to the counties in 1978.”

Labor bills like enacting a right-to-work law and repealing prevailing wage on public projects have met a frosty reception in the Democrat-led House of Representatives.

Despite passing the Republican-led Senate in recent sessions and newly elected Gov. Matt Bevin making a right-to-work law one of his priorities, Londrigan said he doesn’t see a right-to-work law in Kentucky’s books anytime soon.

“Obviously, similar to the prevailing wage bill they’ll have the ability in the Senate to pass it out,” Londrigan said of right-to-work legislation. “On the other side of the chamber, in the House, we have the ability to kill those bills, and we fully intend to do that with the prevailing wage bill tomorrow, and we’ll do the same with the right-to-work bill.”


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