Kentucky "Right to Work" Law Survives Legal Challenge

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

November 30, 2018

The Kentucky Supreme Court has upheld the state's "right to work" law by a 4-3 vote, finding it does not discriminate against unions when compared to other organizations. Kentucky became the nation's 27th right-to-work state in January 2017, making it illegal for workers in the Bluegrass State to be required to join a union or pay dues to a labor organization as a condition of employment.

Labor groups had filed a lawsuit claiming the Kentucky Right to Work Act was unconstitutional. Unions also claimed that the Act required them to represent nonunion workers without compensation.

But Kentucky's highest court rejected those claims, finding the state legislature clearly established a rational basis for the Act, namely:

  • Promoting economic development;
  • Promoting job growth; and
  • Removing Kentucky's "economic disadvantages" in competing with neighboring states.

Writing for the Court, Justice Laurance VanMeter explained, "One does not need an advanced degree in labor economics to recognize that employers might be attracted to locate in a state where wages are lower as opposed to a state where wages are higher." He added that the legislature clearly could make a policy decision that the Act might result in more jobs without violating the state constitution.

The Kentucky Supreme Court also noted that the US Supreme Court has held that right-to-work laws generally do not violate equal protection provisions.

The dissent lamented that the Act gives nonunion employees the benefit of working under a contract negotiated at considerable cost while prohibiting unions from requiring those employees to pay any share of the cost of the contract.

Earlier this year, voters in neighboring Missouri rejected a similar right-to-work law by a 2-1 margin in a victory for organized labor.