The ardently anti-union National Right to Work Committee has been cool to the county right to work crusade.
Now the Washington-based NRTWC has its national and state executive directors scurrying across Kentucky trying to drum up “grassroots support for a state right-to-work law,” according to a recent story in the Bowling Green Daily News.
The duo is worried that the courts will overturn the county ordinances. Thus, they argue, a state RTW law is the only way to go, the story said.
Not surprisingly the union-busters called at Bowling Green, the seat of Warren County, which, in December, became the first county to pass a RTW ordinance. The BG News editorialized in favor of the idea.
The NRTWC national flack claimed the county “ordinances show grassroots support in different areas of the state for a right-to-work law.”
Politicians and proponents of various issues always seem to say they have an abundance of “grassroots support.”
Kentucky has 120 counties. So far, only about six have passed right to work statutes. The newspaper story also said the Kentucky NRTWC head “agreed that passing a county ordinance could lead to a legal battle.” Battle has been joined.
Nine unions have filed suit in federal court in Louisville against Hardin County’s RTW ordinance. The suit could be expanded to cover other county RTW measures.
In addition, the newspaper story said the RTW bill the GOP-majority state Senate fast tracked to passage the other day “is expected to struggle in the Democratic-controlled House.”
Kids will stop shooting hoops in Kentucky before this House passes the Senate bill.
Yet, according to the BG News story, the RTW tandem insisted they “have had a lot of success talking to people who are interested in supporting a right-to-work law.”
The people who voted last Nov. 4 showed a decided disdain for RTW. From Paducah to Pikeville, a host of Republican House candidates promised to make Kentucky a right to work state if the GOP won control of the legislature’s lower chamber.
The Democrats held their 54-46 majority.
Meanwhile, another out-of-state anti-union group is in Kentucky, albeit crooning a different tune on RTW. The Florida-based Protect my Paycheck organization vows the county right to work ordinances are constitutional. PMP promises to foot the legal bills for fiscal courts sued because they approved RTW measures.
While the voters clearly turned thumbs down on RTW last November, it will be interesting to see what local electorates will make of their county officials who passed these RTW ordinances, especially when the courts strike them down. It will be doubly intriguing if counties end up having the pay the court costs, to boot.
There’s nothing like squandering time and taxpayer dollars merely to make political statements to rile the average John and Jane Q Citizen in Kentucky, or any place else for that matter.
Washington seems to be so far away from Democracy as to warrant it being closed down. Congress blames the President for abuse of power by trying to do something about 12 million or so illegals. This is just one instance of the impasses when the Congress sat on its hands rather than act on our Nation’s problems. Infrastructure repairs are needed to maintain first class operations in business and keep people alive and provide jobs, it awaits a bunch we pay to watch after our Nation. Politics to the absurd.
Most eighth grade civic students know the power to make treaties rests with the President, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. When the Speaker of the House fails to read the Constitution, plans to give foreign President Netanyahu the equivalent of a seat in the United States House of Representatives by invitation, to speak about a treaty, he has forfeited all right to criticize any official’s perceived abuse of power. Talk about hypocrisy! Who speaks next? Putin?
Union members aren’t the only folks who suggest the GOP’s right to work crusade cost them the state House of Representatives last fall.
In a recent Louisville Courier-Journal guest column, Bob Heleringer, a former Republican state representative from Jefferson County, said RTW helped dash GOP hopes of flipping the House.
“The coup de grace may have been Mark It Red's ill-advised decision to inject the volatile Right to Work issue into nearly every district where it was running the show,” he wrote.
Mark It Red is an Indianapolis-based consulting firm the Kentucky Republican Party hired to help the GOP take the House, where the Democrats had a 54-46 majority going into the election – and held it.
Mark It Red said right to work was the way to go.
“Reluctant candidates who questioned this approach were assured that internal polling (done by the same firm (objectivity, s'il vous plait?) showed ‘60 percent or better’ support for this white-hot button issue. Au contraire! Instead, it angered many voters in indisputably conservative areas but who nonetheless regard a union membership (or that of a family member) as an indispensable part of their economic security.”
Heleringer lamented: “Despite a promise to run individual races tailored to the unique issues of each district, Mark It Red, for the crucial stretch drive, crafted a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter campaign that looked the same in Paducah as it did in Owensboro as it did in Bullitt County as it did in Jessamine County — all losses, by the way, despite Mitch McConnell and other GOP local candidates in those areas winning, some in landslides.”
In Paducah, Randy Bridges, the Republican who ran against Democratic State Rep. Gerald Watkins, was so gung-ho for right to work that he hopped on the speaker’s stand and touted it before a mostly union crowd at the city’s Labor Day picnic.
His remarks received a combination of boos and stunned silence.
“Unions had already endorsed me,” Watkins said. “But what my opponent said really galvanized the unions. Their support was the key to my victory.”
Emcee Larry Sanderson, a retired UA international representative, said it was tough keeping quiet during Bridges’ speech. But the Republican's support for right to work fired Sanderson up to organize a regional labor rally in support of Watkins and other union-endorsed House candidates from western Kentucky.
The rally at Carson Park fairgrounds in Paducah drew at least 2,500 people, most of them union members and their families – some of whom got up early and rode buses 200-plus miles from Louisville.
Though Sen. Mitch McConnell beat Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes by 7,781 votes in McCracken County, of which Paducah is the seat, Watkins beat Bridges by 965 votes.
Bridges ran hard on RTW.
“There was no doubt that he is for right to work and that I am against it,” Watkins said. “I never have thought that right to work is as popular as the Republicans think it is.”
Anyway, I haven’t seen the RTW question on the Mark It Red poll. I suspected the query was carefully crafted to get the consultants the answer they wanted.
Admittedly, a pre-election Survey USA Bluegrass Poll did have 55 percent of respondents answering “yes” to the question, “Should laws be changed to allow people to work in businesses that have unions without joining the union or paying union dues?”
That question was misleading, but I suspect unintentionally. A lot of people get right to work wrong.
To be sure, I wouldn’t for a minute question the integrity of the Survey USA poll or of its sponsors: the Louisville Courier-Journal, Louisville WAVE-TV, theLexington Herald-Leader and Lexington WKYT-TV.
But the fact is, thousands of people work at unionized companies in Kentucky and elsewhere and don't belong to the union. They are salaried employees.
I imagine the percentage of “yes” responders to the poll question would have been considerably lower had the query been posed, “Should laws be changed to allow hourly workers in businesses with hourly worker unions to receive union-won wages and benefits without joining the union or paying union dues or a service fee to the union?"
A right to work law enables such freeloading.
In any event, Heleringer also wrote that “Many Republican candidates, both among those who lost as well as a few that won, are still questioning the decision by the state Republican Party and the House leadership in early 2014 to hire…Mark It Red.”
But there is no question that right to work laws are some of the oldest union-busting tools around. They are designed to weaken large unions, destroy small unions and encourage workers not to join unions.
Meanwhile, at the county level, it looks like some judges and magistrates are starting to balk at the largely Republican-led push for local RTW ordinances. That seems especially so since Attorney Gen. Jack Conway issued an opinion that such measures are unconstitutional and also since nine unions filed suit against the Hardin County RTW ordinance in federal court – legal action that can be broadened to cover such measures approved in other counties.
Nonetheless, back at Frankfort, where the Republicans have been pushing a state RTW law for years and failing to get one, the GOP-majority senate fast tracked yet another RTW bill knowing that the hogs will fly before the Democratic-majority House passes it.
RTW has become the Bluegrass State union-busters' Moby Dick. But the voters showed pretty clearly last Nov. 4 that they don't care to jump in the whaleboat with crazy Capt. Ahab and get dragged down to Davy Jones' locker with him.
The Kentucky State AFL-CIO today endorsed Attorney Gen. Jack Conway for governor.
“Jack is truly committed to helping Kentucky’s hard working men and women improve their living standards and working conditions and he understands the struggles that workers face in this difficult economy,” said a statement from Bill Londrigan, state AFL-CIO president.
“As Attorney General Jack has demonstrated his willingness to stand up for working Kentuckians when they are victimized by unscrupulous employers, predatory lenders and scam artists. Our members and affiliates who live and work in every county across Kentucky thank Jack for his solid support and willingness to take on those that want to turn back the clock on Kentucky’s workers and their families.”
Added Londrigan: “Jack has committed to continuing his advocacy, energy and ideas that benefit those that work every day to move Kentucky forward by improving our economy, educational opportunities, health and wellbeing. We believe the working families of Kentucky will have a great advocate in Jack Conway as governor and look forward to working with his administration to make Kentucky an even better place to live, work and play.”
The announcement was made this morning at a Frankfort press conference.
The endorsement was made by the state AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education on behalf of 38 AFL-CIO affiliated unions statewide, Londrigan said.
Conway, from Louisville, received strong union support in his two successful campaigns for attorney general. He was reelected in 2011. As of today, only Conway and Geoff Young of Lexington have filed for governor in the May 19 primary. The filing deadline is 4 p.m. (EST) Jan. 27.
Last fall, Republican candidates for the state House of Representatives promised to pass a right to work law if the GOP flipped the General Assembly’s lower chamber.
But even before election day, the Republicans and allied anti-union groups in Kentucky and beyond started working on a plan B: county right to work ordinances.
Plan B kicked in right after the Democrats held their 54-46 House majority on election day.
Now that nine unions have challenged Hardin County’s right to work measure in federal court – with the possibility of the suit expanding to cover other county RTW measures -- a plan C seems to be in the works: pass now, repeal later.
Oh, proponents of the county ordinances insist they are legal, despite a Kentucky attorney general’s opinion to the contrary. At the same time, a Florida-based anti-union group promises to pick up the tab for county officials who have to defend the ordinances in court.
Yet anti-union and pro-right to work State Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Rockfield, recently told members of the Butler County fiscal court “that should expenses mount for the county they could always repeal any ordinance passed dealing with Right-To-Work legislation,” according to Beechtree News, an online newspaper in Butler County.
Butler, part of DeCesare’s district, is one of a handful of counties that are considering, or have passed, right to work ordinances.
Warren, DeCesare’s home county, was the first county to approve one. Nobody pushed harder for the measure than DeCesare, hence his missionary trip to neighboring Butler County, where the fiscal court is pondering RTW.
Anyway, by holding out the possibility of repeal as an inducement to pass a right to work law, DeCesare sounds worried, if not desperate, that the suit will stall the county-level RTW movement.
Also, if this Sunshine State group really is an ATM for fiscal courts, why did DeCesare bring up legal expenses?
Of course, the last thing the union-busters want is for fiscal courts to stop and think about what the lawsuit might cost them.
It looks like the cogitating has commenced. Garrard County Judge-Executive John Wilson, a Republican, told Greg Kocher of the Lexington Herald-Leaderthat he’s waiting to see what happens in court.
"It's probably more prudent to watch as those lawsuits make their way through the system," Kocher quoted him.
I suspect more county judge-executives and fiscal court members will at least chose the wait-and-see-route if not drop the idea of a RTW ordinance.
Kocher’s story provided additional food for thought for county officials. He quoted Lynn Rhinehart an attorney for the AFL-CIO in Washington: “Every court that's looked at this issue has ruled that local right-to-work ordinances are illegal. The law allows states to pass right to work, but it doesn't allow counties to pass right to work. "It strikes us as a waste of taxpayers' time and money to have their county commissioners spending time debating and adopting ordinances that are going to be struck down as illegal.”
Anyway, here’s a sure-fire time and money saving tip for Butler and the other counties considering RTW: move on to serious business such as repairing roads and bridges, improving water and sewer systems and expanding fire and law enforcement protection for the citizens. Give the taxpayers a bang for their buck.
Such a decision also could be a job saver for county officials. Voters tend not to look kindly on politicians who willfully squander time and tax dollars passing unconstitutional laws.
Nine local and international unions filed suit in federal court in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday to block nearby Hardin County’s newly- enacted right to work ordinance.
The unions say the measure, which the county fiscal court passed Tuesday, 8-1, violates the National Labor Relations Act.
Several members of the unions live in Hardin County, which adjoins Jefferson County, whose seat is Louisville. Two of the local unions are headquartered in Elizabethtown, the Hardin County seat, and another in Cecelia, also in Hardin County.
Besides Hardin County, Warren, Simpson, Fulton and Todd counties have passed local right to work ordinances. Cumberland County has approved an ordinance on first reading.
The lawsuit challenges only the Hardin County ordinance. But Louisville attorney Irwin Cutler, who represents the unions, said the suit could be broadened to cover legal action to overturn the ordinances approved in other counties.
Warren was the first county to pass a right to work ordinance. Before the magistrates voted 5-1 in favor of the measure last month, Kentucky Attorney Gen. Jack Conway’s office issued an opinion warning that counties lacked the legal authority to pass such ordinances.
Said Bill Londrigan, Kentucky State AFL-CIO president: “This past election cycle, working Kentuckians rejected corporations’ bad faith attempt to take over the state legislature and poison their policies. Now these same out-of-state corporate interests want to take over our county governments by pushing a radical outside agenda. These illegal ordinances will affect all workers, union and non-union. They will decrease wages, lower median household income, increase poverty, and undermine workplace safety.”
Last fall, Republicans candidates for the state House of Representatives promised to pass a right to work law if they gained a majority in the legislature’s lower chamber. The Democrats held their 54-46 edge. The Republican-majority state senate recently passed a right to work law. The bill is expected to die in the House.
Londrigan added that in 1965, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled “that these so-called ‘right to work’ laws can only be made at the state level.”
He said the county right to work ordinances are “illegal and will hurt our hard working families. Also, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway presented an opinion stating that counties lack the authority to pass this type of ordinance.”
Londrigan also said that “hardworking Kentuckians need a raise, more good jobs, and more investment in education -- not unfair, illegal and unnecessary legislation. We need to stop wasting taxpayers’ money with these attacks on Kentucky workers by out-of-state special interests pushing a radical out-of-state agenda. Our mission is to improve the lives of all working Kentuckians and raise the standard of living for all Kentuckians. We salute workers in Hardin County for taking a stand against out-of-state corporate interests."
The plaintiffs in the suit are United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America Local 3047, Elizabethtown; UAW, Detroit; International Chemical Workers Union Council of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Akron, Ohio; UFCW Local 970C, Cecelia; UFCW Local 227, Louisville; General Drivers, Warehousemen and Helpers Local 89, Louisville; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 369, Louisville; International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers-Communications Workers of America, The Industrial Division of the Communications Workers of America, Dayton, Ohio; IUE-CWA, Industrial Division, CWA Local 83766, Elizabethtown.
Are these county right to work ordinances more of a ploy to pressure the Democratic House into joining the Republican Senate in passing a state right to work law?
“I’ve been told that is part of their strategy,” said State Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah. “But that is not going to be an effective strategy."
Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, says the House won’t cave on right to work.
“I think the recent attorney general’s opinion on this issue is crystal clear: Local communities cannot pass right-to-work legislation on their own,” said Stumbo, who was Kentucky’s attorney general in 2003-2007.
“There is no mention of that authority in the law governing fiscal courts, and there is no way in the world we in the House will consider changing that. This initiative is being pushed by interests outside of Kentucky who only care about weakening our labor unions and cutting the wages of hardworking families.”
So far, fiscal courts in Warren, Simpson, Fulton and Todd counties have passed right to work ordinances. Hardin and Cumberland counties have approved such measures on first reading. Butler County is considering one.
A court challenge from unions is expected soon.
“A local government may not enact a right-to-work ordinance,” advises the opinion from Attorney Gen. Jack Conway’s office.
Todd County Attorney Harold Mac Johns agrees. He says the ordinances amount to political statements.
Ariana Levinson, a professor at the University of Louisville's Brandeis School of Law, says federal labor law allows only states to enact right to work laws. "It does not permit local sub-divisions like cities, counties, and municipalities to pass right to work laws," she told Western Kentucky University's public radio station.
Even the anti-union National Right to Work Committee says “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.”
In last fall’s elections, Republican candidates promised to pass a right to work law if the GOP flipped the House. The Republicans made right to work a central plank in their “Handshake with Kentucky” platform.
The Democrats hung onto their 54-46 edge.
“We held the House despite this Republican landslide nationwide,” said Watkins, a political science professor at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah. “The Republicans even picked up seats in the state Senate.
"I think the Republicans failed to take the House because they made right to work the big issue. Right to work is obviously not as popular as they think it is."
These legally dubious local right to work ordinances – pushed by Republicans and supported by some Democrats -- remind me of a speech AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka made to the National Press Club in 2011.
After lambasting the GOP for smashing workers’ rights with a “wrecking ball,” Trumka put both parties on notice: “It doesn't matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside -- the outcome is the same either way. If leaders aren't blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families' interests, working people will not support them.”
These Democratic county officials who voted for right to work ordinances in the Warren, Fulton, Hardin and Simpson County fiscal courts are not just sidewalk superintendents. They’re up in the crane cab helping the Republicans aim the wrecking ball at Bluegrass State unions.
The Warren County fiscal court was the first local government body to approve one of these union-busting measures. Fulton and Simpson counties followed. Hardin and Todd counties have endorsed right to work proposals on first readings.
In Warren, Hardin, Simpson and Todd, Democrats made common cause with Republicans. (One Warren Democrat voted "nay.") Everybody on the Fulton court is a Democrat.
We expect the shaft from the GOP. Long gone are liberal and moderate Republicans like Kentucky’s Sen. John Sherman Cooper.
The GOP has been the bare-knucks, anti-labor party for years. Most Democrats have been in organized labor’s corner since President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Dealers.
But right-wing, anti-union “Blue Dog” Democrats are a breed common in Kentucky, especially in rural county courthouses and in small-town city halls. Some of them are virtually indistinguishable from Republicans on just about every issue that comes up the pike.
Trumka didn’t mention the Blue Dogs by name. I suspect they and like-minded Democrats are whom he mainly meant by politicians “simply standing aside.”
I’ve heard “Blue Dogs” called “Republican Lite” in union halls. So has Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO.
“Dino” – “Democrat In Name Only” – is an even better handle for the likes of these union-busting officials in Warren, Fulton, Hardin, Simpson and Todd counties.
Anyway, back in 2011, Londrigan echoed Trumka: “With workers and their unions facing an unprecedented corporate-backed onslaught of anti-worker, anti-union legislation across our nation, it is timely and appropriate to ask both Democrats and Republicans, 'Which Side Are You On?'
He added: “Yes, this old labor union song and slogan aptly sums up what workers and their unions want to know from members of both parties: do they support the rights of workers – us -- to form and join unions of their choosing or do they stand with corporations, their wealthy owners and paid political enablers – them -- who are on a mission to destroy the American labor movement?
“It really does come down to that. Are Democrats willing to stand with workers and support them, or are they going to straddle the fence and act as if they are on our side, but then not be there when the war on workers is being fought? Now is the time for Democrats to proclaim that they are on our side. There are no neutral zones in the corporate war on workers.”
Londrigan’s words ring truer than ever now that the GOP's anti-worker war, bankrolled by reactionary billionaires like the Koch brothers, has come to the Bluegrass State – with some Democratic enablers in the front ranks of organized labor’s would-be destroyers.
Trumka stressed that unions aren’t giving up on genuinely pro-union Democrats. “We’ve spent money where we have friends and will continue to do that,” he explained.
Anyway, after Trumka’s speech, some Democratic honchos rushed to promise that the party is still in labor’s corner. “Labor’s fight is our fight and we’re proud to partner with them,” Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the Associated Press.
I wonder what Crider would make of these Kentucky Dinos who are so proud to partner with the GOP union-haters whose idea of "free enterprise" is free of unions?