Right-to-Work on the Agenda for Kentucky Gov. Bevin

Published November 8, 2016

At a speech in Bowling Green, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) announced plans to work with lawmakers to pass right-to-work legislation during the 2017 legislative session, after neighboring West Virginia enacted a right-to-work law in 2016.

In September, Bevin addressed the Bowling Green Rotary Club about his plans for the coming year, saying businesses are deciding against moving to Kentucky because of its laws compelling employees to join labor unions and pay dues as conditions of employment in some workplaces.

Left Behind by Success

Jim Waters, president of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, says Kentucky is missing out on the successes enjoyed by neighboring states with right-to-work laws.

“Forty percent of Kentuckians live in counties bordering another state and often watch opportunities locate within sight of the Bluegrass State’s borders,” Waters said. “Who can blame them for taking advantage of the opportunity to get a better job and have the freedom to say ‘no’ to union membership if that’s better for them and their families?

“Tennessee’s three most-populated counties bordering Kentucky experienced nearly 16 percent growth in private-sector employment between 2002 and 2012, while employment in the three most-populated Bluegrass State counties along that same Kentucky-Tennessee border grew by less than 4 percent during that entire decade,” Waters said.

Competing for Workers’ Dollars

Richard Vedder, an economics professor at Ohio University, says right-to-work is a win-win for workers and unions alike.

“Right-to-work laws make unions more competitive and more efficient, and in a way, [they make unions] more effective,” Vedder said. “If you don’t have a right-to-work law, a union gets certified and it’s in forever. It has no competition. They have a union monopoly, and the workers can’t do anything about it once the union is recognized.

“Where you have a right-to-work law, workers have a right to leave the union any time,” Vedder said. “They don’t have to belong. In that kind of environment, the unions have to work to get the workers to join. They have to provide the benefits that the workers believe are worthwhile. Union leaders tend to be more responsive to their workers.”

Time for Reform

Vedder says he thinks the time is right for bringing right-to-work reform to Kentucky.

“When West Virginia got a Republican governor, then—bang!—he went immediately for right-to-work,” Vedder said. “The same thing happened in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan, all in the last few years. It’s Kentucky’s time.”