Labor’s Bluegrass Blues: Court Upholds Kentucky Right-To-Work Ordinance

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Thunderclaps have an echo; the bigger the boom, the bigger the reverberation.

On November 8, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, revealing the smarty-pants set in Washington DC to be not so smart after all.  Ten days later, on November 18, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a bombshell decision that revealed pretty much the same thing.

The case revolved around the right of localities to pass so-called “right-to-work” laws, which allow workers to opt out of union membership and dues.  Federal law provides that states may pass such laws under an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  To date, 26 states have done so, most recently West Virginia.

There are a lot of reasons why a state may want to be right-to-work.  First, it is  a question of liberty; people should not be forced to join or subsidize a private entity like a labor organization as a condition of employment (such arrangements are clearly of violation of First Amendment protections of speech and assembly).

But there is also an economic motive:  Right-to-work is a powerful attractant to business development.  Although unions are free to organize in right-to-work areas, it is often a more risky and expensive proposition for them to do so.  Employers know they are less likely to be burdened with costly labor contracts in right-to-work locales, and so value such protections when looking to locate new facilities.  As the president of one site-selection consulting firm put it:

“More than half of our companies either make [right-to-work] a threshold or a very important factor in making a decision on where to locate a factory and other operations.”