Kentucky unions are suing Republican Gov. Matt Bevin for signing a right-to-work law, arguing that the law, which prevents workers from being forced to join or otherwise financially support a union as a condition of employment, violates the state constitution.
Their lawsuit says that the right-to-work law violates the state constitution's prohibitions on "takings" without just compensation. In other words, the labor groups are arguing that the law robs them of their property by preventing non-union members from having to pay the union.
Federal law explicitly allows states to adopt right-to-work rules, but David Suetholz, attorney for Teamsters Local 89, a co-plaintiff in the case, argues that doesn't matter. "We are not challenging any federal laws. This is strictly a state consitutional issue," he told the Washington Examiner. It cannot be appealed any higher than the state supreme court, he added.
The crux of their case is that federal law requires a union, once it is recognized, to represent all of a business' workers in collective bargaining, even those who aren't members. Unions, whenever possible, insist on provisions in their contracts with management forcing non-members to pay fees for that representation. Unions call these "security clauses." Suetholz arges that prohibiting them is the functional equivalent of robbing the union of its property.
"The state was well aware of what the requirement of fair representation to non-members means for a union," he said.
Stanford labor law professor William Gould called the takings argument "a stretch." The kind of financial losses the unions would face under the law don't fit the commmon legal definition of a "taking," he said. "I know this argument has been tried in other states and come up short," Gould said.
Patrick Semmens, spokesman for the National Right to Work Committee, called the lawsuit a "desperate but not unexpected attempt" by the unions. "Implicit in the 'Takings Clause' claim is the assumption that part of a worker's paycheck is actually the property of union officials, which is outrageous and an insult to the hard-working men and women of Kentucky," Semmens said.
The governor's office dismissed the lawsuit as "frivolous" and said the law would benefit all state workers by boosting the economy. Right-to-work advocates argue the laws help attract new businesses to a state.
"It's shameful that groups like the AFL-CIO and Teamsters are playing political games at a time when Kentucky is experiencing unprecedented economic development growth. This frivolous lawsuit threatens to hurt Kentucky's families, robbing them of high-paying job opportunities — a good example of which are the 550 jobs coming to northeastern Kentucky as a result of the new right-to-work law," said Woody Maglinger, Bevin's spokesman.