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Federal Court Strikes Kentucky Local Right to Work Law

February 4, 2016

By: Jay E. Ingle

On Wednesday, February 3, 2016, the U.S. District Court, Western District of Kentucky addressed the issue of whether a right-to-work law may be enacted solely by a state or territorial government, or whether a local government may pass a law prohibiting union-security agreements.  The Court ruled that the local regulation, in this case a Hardin County right to work ordinance, was invalid as preempted by the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"). 

In January 2015, Hardin County passed a county ordinance stating that no employee is required to join or pay dues to a union, otherwise known as a "right to work" ordinance.  The United Automobile Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (the "Union") challenged the ordinance as unconstitutional.  According to the Union, the NLRA preempts the right-to-work ordinance.  

As a brief background, the NLRA allows for union-shop agreements which require employees to join the union soon after they are hired, and agency-shop agreements, which require employees to pay union dues whether or not they are members of the union.  An exception to the NLRA, allows for states to exempt out of such policy, i.e. a state may adopt laws that make all forms of compulsory unionism in the State illegal.  29 U.S.C ยง164(b).  Kentucky is one of 25 states that do not have such a law. 

Thus, Hardin County argued that its local ordinance fell into this exception.  In yesterday's opinion, the Court rejected the idea that a county ordinance fit the exception noting it was only limited to State action. So, a state can have right-to-work law prohibiting compulsory union dues, but counties cannot issue such localized ordinances. 

The Court also ruled that the Hardin County ordinance providing that no employee shall be required to be recommended, approved, referred or cleared by or through a labor organization - prohibiting hiring hall agreements - was also preempted by the NLRA which prohibits regulation of hiring-hall agreements. 

Along with Hardin County, 11 other counties have issued similar right-to-work ordinances.  Proponents of right-to-work laws argue Kentucky is losing jobs to other states like Tennessee, Indiana and Alabama, which have such laws.  Opponents argue that such rules are unfair to unions who they say must represent all workers in a bargaining unit to maintain their right to enter into collective bargaining with businesses. To read the full decision, click here.

This article was authored by Allison B. Moreman and Jay E. Ingle, Jackson Kelly, PLLC.


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