Two union groups sue to block new right-to-work law, rankling governor and top lawmakers

05/25/2017 03:49 PM

A pair of labor groups filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging the state’s newly enacted right-to-work law, hoping to block the law that prohibits unions from collecting fees from non-members.

The AFL-CIO and Teamsters Local 89 named Gov. Matt Bevin and Labor Cabinet Secretary Derrick Ramsey in the suit filed in Franklin Circuit Court, arguing that the right-to-work law violates the Kentucky Constitution.

Unions packed the Capitol to protest House Bill 1, which passed the House on a 58-39 vote and the Senate on a 25-12 vote, as the legislation moved swiftly through the General Assembly in the opening week of this year’s session in January. HB 1, signed by Bevin Jan. 9, was cited by the head of Braidy Industries as a top reason that the company decided to invest $1.3 billion in a new aluminum plant in Greenup County.

But Bill Londrigan, Kentucky state president of the AFL-CIO, said the bill “is simply another element of a low-wage economic development model coupled with a political strategy to weaken unions and stifle the collective voices of Kentucky’s workers.”

“It is my duty to seek redress from the court in order to protect the rights of Kentucky’s unions to bargain collectively without government interference and prevent the wages of Kentucky’s hard working men and women from further erosion resulting from this misnamed, discriminatory and punitive legislation,” Londrigan said in a statement.

Fred Zuckerman, president of Teamsters Local 89, said he believes the law will be struck down in court because “the Kentucky Constitution is uniquely equipped to prevent unequal corporate special legislation.”

The Governor’s Office dismissed the lawsuit as “frivolous,” pointing to Braidy Industries’ announcement in April to open a 550-job facility in Greenup County as evidence that the new law has already shown results.

“It’s shameful that groups like the AFL-CIO and Teamsters are playing political games at a time when Kentucky is experiencing unprecedented economic development growth,” Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said in a statement.

Legislative leaders defended HB 1’s constitutionality and said they believe the courts will look favorably on the law.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, pointed to last year’s ruling in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld local right-to-work ordinances passed by local governments in Kentucky.

“We also saw last year where a federal judge threw out a lawsuit challenging the statewide right-to-work law passed by the Wisconsin Legislature in 2015,” Stivers said in a statement. “That same decision to throw out the challenge in Wisconsin cited a Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that upheld Indiana’s right-to-work law. I am confident that Kentucky will continue to be a right-to-work state for the foreseeable future.”

House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, added that the right-to-work law “has already resulted in the creation of thousands of jobs in Kentucky.”

“Not only am I confident the Kentucky Right-to-Work Act is constitutional, but we are also seeing the results we predicted when the bill was passed,” Hoover said in a statement. “Kentucky is a different state today than it was six months ago, thanks to right-to-work.”


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