Right-to-work laws limit the “union security” a union can achieve in a collective bargaining agreement with an employer. In states with no right-to-work law, unions can bargain for contract provisions requiring that, as a condition of continued employment, employees must either join the union or at least pay monthly fees to the union for its collective bargaining efforts. In states that have right-to-work laws, that sort of union security provision is illegal. There are 26 states with right-to-work laws currently. Ohio does not have a right-to-work law.Kentucky also has no state-wide right-to-work law. But a number of local county governments in Kentucky have enacted right-to-work laws governing employment in those counties. The most recent to do so was Hardin County in 2015. These efforts in Kentucky to adopt right-to-work legislation at the local government level, rather than state wide, were the first in the country. The Hardin County law was challenged in a lawsuit by unions and union interest groups. The National Labor Relations Board filed a “friend of the court” brief in support of the union challenge. The argument was that local government does not have the authority to implement right-to-work legislation. Federal law gives “the states” the right to pass right-to-work laws. The Unions argued that does not include county and municipal governments. Those supporting the Hardin county law argued that county and municipal governments are subdivisions of the state and therefore have the same right to pass right-to-work laws. The federal district court ruled for the unions. But on appeal, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The 6th Circuit is the federal appeals court covering Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Michigan. A three judge panel of the 6th Circuit ruled in favor of the right-to-work advocates. In at least the states covered by the 6th Circuit, the door is now open for local governments to pass right-to-work legislation. An appeal to the full 6th Circuit bench is expected and, if the decision is upheld, perhaps to the United States Supreme Court.
This is an issue worth watching closely. In our changing political climate, there may be renewed interest in pursuing right-to-work legislation. Of course, any effort for local right-to-work legislation will have to be supported by local government which may or may not be influenced by the political climate in Washington.