The Supreme Court of Kentucky on Thursday upheld the state’s recently passed “right-to-work” law.
The 2017 Kentucky Right to Work Act made it illegal for labor unions to require membership in the union as a condition to working at a job and prohibited unions from requiring dues payments from non-union employees. Similar right-to-work laws had been proposed in Kentucky nearly every year since 2000, though it was not until a Republican majority took control of the state legislature in 2016 that the law was passed. Labor unions quickly sought to block the law in court, setting up Thursday’s ruling.
The two labor unions that brought the suit, the Kentucky State AFL-CIO and Teamsters Local 89, advanced a number of procedural arguments against the law and its rapid passage through the legislature under the guise of “emergency legislation,” as well as arguing that it violated the equal protections provisions of the US Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment and sections of the Kentucky constitution. In a split decision, the court decided that the law did not violate the equal protection provisions of the Constitution, stating that the US Supreme Court has routinely held that such right-to-work laws did not violate labor protections. Since the court found that there was no constitutional issue, the procedural questions relating to the passage of the bill also held no merit. The court stated that “in this area of economic legislation, the legislature and the executive branch make the policy, not the courts” and that it would be improper for the court to rule otherwise. However, Justice Keller, in her dissent, argued that even if the law did not run afoul of the constitutional issues, the method by which it was enacted still violated Kentucky’s constitutional provisions barring the passage of “special legislation” that did not have “universal application” by targeting employers and employees as separate classes.
Thursday’s ruling is the latest in a series of high-profile challenges to right-to-work laws. In September 2017 the Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld the state’s right-to-work law under a similar ruling to Kentucky’s decision, while the US Supreme Court ruled similarly in a First Amendment challenge for public-sector non-union employees in 2016.