Monday, December 22, 2014

County passes first local right-to-work law, but state attorney general opines against it

Warren County is in red; Simpson is to southwest
A Southern Kentucky county on Friday passed a local "right to work" law, which prohibits union contracts that require workers to join a union or pay it fees. The Warren County Fiscal Court passed the ordinance 6 to 1, making the county the first county in the nation to pass such a law, Katie Brandenburg reports for The Daily News in Bowling Green, the county seat. Simpson County, which separates Warren County from Tennessee along Interstate 65, and Fulton County, the westernmost county in Kentucky, also have also approved initial readings of right-to-work ordinances.

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democratic candidate for governor, "issued an opinion Thursday that local governments do not have the authority to enact right-to-work ordinances," Brandenburg writes. The opinion relies heavily on a 1955 ruling by the Kentucky Court of Appeals, then the state's highest court, that the 1947 federal law allowing states and territories to have right-to-work laws should be interpreted narrowly, "reasoning that Congress did not want variations in right-to-work laws in each local political subdivision."

Retired state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Lambert and County Attorney Amy Milliken said the county does have the power to pass a right-to-work ordinance under "home rule" laws passed since 1955. "Milliken wrote that Home Rule statutes enable counties to enact right-to-work ordinances, delegating authority to 'regulate and control the fiscal affairs of the county,' regulate 'commerce for the protection and convenience of the public" and promote "economic development of the county,' to county governments," Brandenburg reports. When the ordinance passed, Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, shouted to the officials, "See you in court."

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