Kentucky Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer detailed Friday why he is supporting a bill that could soon make his state right-to-work.
Kentucky could become the latest state to pass right-to-work as early as Saturday. The policy outlaws mandatory union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Supporters argue the policy helps attract businesses while promoting worker choice, but critics fear it hurts workers who rely on union representation.
“Statistics show that states that have right-to-work have greater job growth than states that don’t,” Thayer told InsideSources. “I also just think it’s a matter of individual liberty and freedom. Someone should not be compelled to join a union in order to maintain their job.”
The Kentucky House passed the bill Thursday, and it is scheduled for a final vote Saturday by the Senate. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has been an outspoken advocate for the policy and is expected to sign it into law. Thayer believes not having the law has put the state at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting businesses.
“I think it hampered our job growth, especially in the manufacturing sector,” Thayer said. “We have not had a major automotive manufacturer come to Kentucky since Toyota announced in 1984. We had several consider it, but they all turned us away and chose to locate in right-to-work states.”
The policy, however, has attracted plenty of criticism over the years. Democrats, labor unions, and other critics argue it unfairly hurts workers by hampering how effective unions are at negotiating with employers. They note it allows employers to lower wages, benefits, and workplace standards.
“It’s obvious that right-to-work really is something that hurts workers,” Kentucky Democratic Party spokesman Daniel Lowry told InsideSources. “All the evidence shows that right-to-work has no impact on manufacturing at all. When you look at the real empirical evidence of right-to-work, you see that the main result is that it lowers wages. Not only for union members but for everyone.”
Research has been fairly mixed when it comes to what impact right-to-work actually has on workers. The Economic Policy Institute found the policy results in decreased wages and benefits. The Heritage Foundation, however, found wages and benefits in right-to-work states aren’t actually less when you adjust for the cost of living.
“There is no evidence that is the case in the 26 other states that are right-to-work,” Thayer said. “You even look at a state like Michigan, the home of the labor union. Since they’ve gone right-to-work a few years ago, their economy is rebounding, job growth is up, companies are moving there and union membership has grown.”
Whether the policy is critical for attracting businesses is also a major point of contention. Some have argued it’s a top priority for businesses when deciding where to locate, while others note its low on the list. Lowry says for some businesses he has talked with, it’s not even a factor at all.
“The number one thing they look at is the workforce in an area,” Lowry said. “Then they look at the cost of doing business in that area which includes utilities and tax structure and then they look at logistics, being able to get their product out to the rest of the world.”
Thayer notes the last election shows residents of the state are in support of the Republican agenda. Kentucky Republicans have tried to pass right-to-work before, but in years past were unable. Now they have control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office.
“We have the votes in the Senate to pass it tomorrow morning,” Thayer said. “Elections matter and Republicans won a super-majority in the House. For the first time in Kentucky history, Republicans control the governorship, the House, and the Senate.”
Democrats and labor unions in the state have also taken issue with how quickly the bill has been rushed through the legislature. It has only been a few days and there was little time for debate. Thayer contests the policy has been debated for years but now actually has a chance to pass.
Kentucky is also the first state to pass right-to-work on the county level. Warren County led the way when it passed the policy back in December 2014. The local ordinances were eventually upheld by the courts after a bitter legal dispute.