Kentucky Hits the Ground Running, Becomes 27th Right-to-Work State

Published January 13, 2017

On January 7, Kentucky became the nation’s 27th state to pass right-to-work legislation. Implemented in 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act (THA) allows states to adopt right-to-work laws. Right-to-work gives employees the freedom to choose whether to join a labor union and pay union dues.

According to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, “A Right to Work law secures the right of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to join or financially support a union. However, employees who work in the railway or airline industries are not protected by a Right to Work law, and employees who work on a federal enclave may not be. Moreover, a Right to Work law does not prohibit limitations on when a dues deduction authorization card can be revoked.”

Kentucky has one of the highest union membership rates in the South, and many analysts believe that is because it is one of only a few states in the region without a right-to-work law.

Bill McMorris, a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon, wrote in a recent article, “About 200,000 Kentucky workers were dues-paying union members in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union membership has grown in recent years, with a membership rate of 11 percent of the workforce—a 28 percent increase from 2009.”

According the Bluegrass Institute, in the first week of the 2017 legislative session, the Kentucky Legislature passed and Gov. Matt Bevin (R) signed laws addressing the following issues:


  • Kentucky became a right-to-work state. No longer are Kentuckians forced to join a union as a condition of employment.


  • Kentucky made legislators’ pensions transparent.


  • Kentucky repealed the arbitrary and artificial “prevailing-wage” requirements on public projects, saving taxpayers millions of dollars on new schools and government buildings.


  • Kentucky prohibited union dues from being used to fund politics.


  • And Kentucky determined that union membership should come with an “opt-in” requirement, not just a de facto “yes” that one must later opt out of.

F. Vincent Vernuccio, the Mackinac Center’s director of labor policy, pointed out in a recent Wall Street Journal article voters in right-to-work states have rewarded lawmakers who supported the change, writing, “[T]he union’s bark is a lot worse than its bite when it comes to the election afterward.”

Vernuccio also suggested Kentucky could be the first of several states to pass right-to-work legislation in 2017. “We may see up to 29 [states] before the spring. You’re definitely seeing a snowball effect, and more and more states are looking to give workers freedom.”

States that do not have right-to-work policies should consider implementing them. As the experience of other states shows, right-to-work legislation has a positive effect on states’ economies, workers, and population growth.

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