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Kentucky Right to Work Laws

From equines and energy, to coal and cars, the Bluegrass State works hard. And in large part, unions have worked hard on behalf of employees to protect their interests. As most Kentuckians know, the relationship between labor and management can often be a contentious one, to put it mildly, and requires cooperation from all sides to keep the relationship cordial. Over the past few years, many states have been passing legislation to alter the way employees, employers, and unions work together. Chief among them are so-called "right to work" laws, which allow employees in unionized workforces to refuse monthly payments.

Right to Work Laws

Nearly 30 states have "right-to-work" laws either in their state constitution or statutory code, with many in these laws being passed in the past few years. Generally, these statutes prohibit employers from requiring union membership, or the payment of union dues, as a prerequisite to employees in getting and keeping a job.

Right to Work Statutes in Kentucky

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed House Bill 1 into law in early 2017, making Kentucky the 27th right to work state.

Code Section

Kentucky Revised Statutes 336.130

Policy on Union Membership, Organization, etc.

Kentucky Revised Statutes to the contrary, no employee shall be required, as a condition of employment or continuation of employment, to:
  1. Become or remain a member of a labor organization [Note: this is already enforced under federal labor law];
  2. Pay any dues, fees, assessments, or other similar charges of any kind or amount to a labor organization; or
  3. Pay to any charity or other third party, in lieu of these payments, any amount equivalent to or pro rata portion of dues, fees, assessments, or other charges required of a labor organization.

Prohibited Activity

May not compel non-union employees at unionized workplaces to pay monthly dues to cover union activities.

Penalties

The secretary of the Labor Cabinet or his or her representative shall investigate complaints of violations or threatened violations of subsection (3) of this section and may initiate enforcement of a criminal penalty by causing a complaint to be filed with the appropriate local prosecutor and ensure effective enforcement (Class A misdemeanor).  

What Right-to-Work Laws Do

Right-to-work laws govern the relationship between unions, employees, and employers prohibiting employers or unions from requiring existing employees to join a union or pay union dues. Employers are also not allowed to exclude non-union workers from the hiring process. Many Southern states have long had right-to-work laws, with Kentucky being a notable pro-union holdout.

Although many Northern and Midwestern states have added their own right-to-work statutes in recent years, the overall impact of the laws on wages, union membership, and collective bargaining agreements has yet to be accurately determined. Naturally, unions have almost universally opposed right-to-work laws while most business interests and chambers of commerce have lobbied heavily in their favor.

Kentucky Right to Work Laws: Related Resources

Once a union stronghold, Kentucky's so-called right to work law has major implications for the future of labor organizing in the state. You can contact a Kentucky labor attorney in your area if you would like legal advice regarding a union or employment matter. You can also visit FindLaw’s Employee Rights Center for additional articles and information on this topic.

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