Politics

The Kentucky Supreme Court is considering a lawsuit over Kentucky’s right-to-work law, which allows workers to not pay union dues even if they work at a unionized company.

On Friday, the court heard arguments over whether the measure violates the state’s constitution.

Irwin Cutler, an attorney representing unions suing over the law, argued that the measure is unconstitutional because it’s “special legislation” that singles out unions.

“It’s really not ‘right-to-work,’ it’s a right for employees to not pay their fair share for the costs of union representation,” Cutler said. “What we see here is an effort to destroy unions, to weaken unions.”

The Republican-controlled legislature passed the law last year, saying that it would make the state more attractive to businesses looking to relocate to the state. Unions quickly sued to try and block the legislation.

Gov. Matt Bevin and other Republicans have touted the law as a factor in economic development initiatives over the last year, including Braidy Industries, a $1.3 billion aluminum plant being built in Greenup County.

Since the law passed, 16,000 Kentucky workers have opted out of paying union dues, according to an editorial published in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

Several justices asked the attorney from Bevin’s office to explain why the law makes Kentucky more attractive to businesses.

The governor’s deputy general counsel Chad Meredith said the policy creates a perception that the state will be more business-friendly.

“Businesses perceive that as being a business-friendly state,” Meredith said. “They come to your state, which creates more competition for jobs. Competition for jobs drives up wages.”

Justice Lisabeth Hughes pressed Meredith to explain why businesses find the policy attractive. She argued that it’s because it reduces labor costs.

“We’re in a world where we ought to acknowledge real facts. And the reason it’s perceived as business-friendly is because it has a direct impact on the strength of the union, which has a direct impact on the wages that are negotiated for the workers,” Hughes said.

“What the legal effect of that is is a whole different question, but the reality of it is they have more potential of controlling their labor costs if they’re not sitting across the table from a strong labor union.”

There are 27 other states that have right-to-work laws and none of them have been struck down by an appellate court.

Earlier this week, Missouri voters elected to repeal their right-to-work law in a referendum, the first state to do so.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.