UAW Faces Right-To-Work Laws in Kentucky Counties
States with right-to-work laws are in green. Wikipedia graphic.
Organized labor has had setbacks as states formerly seen as union strongholds in the industrial midwest, Wisconsin and Michigan, have enacted right-to-work legislation that makes paying union dues voluntary. Now, the United Auto Workers, which has been trying to organize autoworkers at ‘transplant’ facilities operated in the American south by foreign automakers faces the prospect of dealing with right-to-work laws at the county level, in Kentucky. The new laws present the autoworkers’ union with a double whammy.
Three counties in Kentucky, Fulton, Simpson, and Warren counties, have already passed laws and Hardin, Todd, and Cumberland counties are expected to do so in the near future. While no such law currently exists in Scott county, where the UAW would love to organize Toyota’s large Georgetown assembly facility, many Kentucky counties are expected to follow suit, hampering the UAW’s organizing efforts in the state. Furthermore, Warren county is the home of General Motors’ Corvette assembly plant. That means that as the union faces a greater challenge to organize at foreign owned auto plants, it could conceivably be decertified at a facility operated by one of the Big 3 Detroit automakers, something unheard of.
Chad Poynor, a UAW committeeman at the Corvette recently told the New York Times, “You hear people all the time say, ‘If I were in a right-to-work state, I’d withdraw’.”
While the labor movement plans lawsuits, claiming that county laws cannot trump federal labor law, right-to-work activists point out that while the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet ruled on local right-to-work laws, the National Labor Relations Act specifically permits the individual states to enact such legislation. Furthermore, the congressional record shows that Congress, in the NLRA, expressly disavowed that federal law superseded state right-to-work laws and that view has been uphold by the Supreme Court when unions have challenged state RTW statutes.
As federal labor law currently stands, a union that has been certified at a company can require non-member employees to pay the costs of representing them, unless such requirements are “prohibited by state or territorial law” as stated in the NLRA.
Kentucky law expressly gives counties regulatory authority over commerce and economic development, so in the eyes of the federal government, at least as RTW activists see it, county laws should be seen as the equivalent to state laws. For its part, the AFL-CIO says, “Nice try — state means state.”
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