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The Doomed Right To Work Dodge

Proponents of local right to work ordinances claim polls show most Kentuckians are pro-right to work.

It may be an old cliché, but the only poll that counts is the one on election day.  

Last November 4, right to work lost.

Almost every Republican candidate for the state House of Representatives pledged to help make Kentucky the 25th right to work state. A right to work law was a central plank in the GOP’s “Handshake with Kentucky” platform.

On the stump, in a flurry of campaign fliers and in a seemingly endless round of radio and TV commercials, Republican House hopefuls vowed to pass a right to work law if the GOP flipped the General Assembly’s lower chamber. The state Senate has a pro-right to work Republican majority.)

Yet the Democrats held their 54-46 House majority.  

Oh, at first, the Republicans seemed pretty sure they’d win the House, where most Democrats – and even some Republicans – oppose right to work. But by late summer, it looked like the GOP’s confidence might be waning. Or, at least, the Republicans seemed to be devising a Plan B.

In early September, state Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, sought an opinion from Attorney Gen. Jack Conway on whether counties could legally pass right to work ordinances.

In late December, Conway’s office, citing federal labor law, said no.

The GOP’s Plan B kicked in anyway. Minutes after Conway’s opinion was issued, Warren County approved a right to work ordinance. Simpson and Fulton counties have followed.

In addition, Hardin and Todd counties have passed right to work ordinances on first reading. Cumberland County is reportedly ready to follow next week.

Not surprisingly, right to work backers claim Conway, a Democrat, is biased in favor of unions. Yet even the GOP-friendly, anti-union National Right to Work Committee warns “there is zero reason to believe that any local Right to Work ordinances adopted in Kentucky or any other state will be upheld in court.”

At any rate, unions are expected to challenge the ordinances in court this month, attorney Dave Suetholz told the Simpson Fiscal Court. The Kentucky State AFL-CIO is working closely with the national AFL-CIO on the issue, added Suetholz, who represents the state AFL-CIO.

Meanwhile, Todd County attorney Harold Mac Johns doubts the county right to work measures will stand up in court.     

“I think the state has pre-empted that” (locally enacted right to work ordinances), he told Hopkinsville radio WHOP. “It’s my hope that the county is not forced to expend any general fund resources to defend this.”

Johns also thinks the right to work ordinance is more of a political statement, according to the radio station.

So having failed to grab the House, the state GOP and its anti-union allies went hunting for fiscal courts comprised of anti-union Republicans and like-minded Democrats – make that “Democrats” -- and encouraged them to pass local right to work ordinances.

No doubt, the ordinances were timed to pressure the legislature, which meets in a few days. My guess is hogs will fly before House Democrats cave on right to work.

Anyway, I don’t know Johns. But if he’s an I-told-you-so kind of guy, I’d bet the farm his day is coming. It’s not a question of if the courts will overturn these ordinances, it’s when.

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