Kent Oyler: GLI backs ‘right to work’ to attract business

This op-ed first appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal

Kentucky has a strong history of protecting workers’ right to organize. Yet over the past half-century the statutes that once protected the commonwealth’s labor force have devolved to protect just the small number of union leaders that perpetuate a broken system.  It is time for Right to Work legislation in Kentucky.

America’s labor laws have seen little change since the 1940s and, just like many tax and trade laws, the same old labor regulations no longer meet the needs of today’s dynamic economy and changing workforce.  Many labor laws, both in Kentucky and nationally, deny workers essential decision-making powers in the workplace.  For example, once a union is granted certification, the law permits that union to stay in that workplace indefinitely. Therefore, new employees don’t get a vote. This system not only denies workers their right to choose who represents them, it also undermines the credibility of many workplace unions with their workers.

Kentucky finds itself at the bottom of the competitive ladder when it comes to the discussion of attracting desperately needed new jobs to the state. As a business-attraction organization, Greater Louisville Inc. finds that many companies won’t even put us on their list to consider because we are not a Right to Work state.

In our corner of the country, we stand alone: Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas have all passed Right to Work legislation.  The unfortunate signal we send to prospective companies is that we are not as business-friendly as our competitors.

So what does Right to Work mean? It simply affirms the right of every American to earn a living without being compelled to belong to or pay dues to a union. Right to Work does not ban or harm unions, it only gives workers a choice about whether to belong.  Compulsory dues or fees in any form –“union,” “closed,” or “agency” shop — is a contradiction of the Right to Work principle and the fundamental independence of each worker.  Furthermore, it is unfair to require employers to collect dues on behalf of the union and fire employees if they refuse to pay those dues.  Right to Work legislation provides that every individual is allowed – but not forced – to join a labor union.

Union advocates often say that Right to Work means “right to work for less,” but that is simply untrue. Glassdoor Economic Research is an independent organization that conducts research and shares insights on trends in the labor market.  Their 2015 study identified the cities that have recovered the quickest since the recession.  Of the top 50 cities in this study, 72 percent were in Right to Work states.  In fact, 70 percent of the cities that saw a percentage increase in hourly wages were in Right to Work states.  Unfortunately, no Kentucky cities were in the top 50.

So what can be done?  The Kentucky Senate has named passage of a Right to Work law as a top priority and filed it as Senate Bill 3 and Gov. Matt Bevin has named it as a top priority of his administration.  I applaud them and I hope you will join me in calling upon the General Assembly to pass this legislation.  And up in Washington D.C., theEmployee Rights Act, currently before Congress, would let employees have a deciding vote on whether their current union actually meets their needs.  It is important that Congress pass this legislation as well.

It is time to give Kentucky workers a choice about whether or not they belong to a union.  It is time for an atmosphere conducive to attracting new jobs in the commonwealth and it is time to stop shooting ourselves in the foot by signaling that we aren’t business friendly.  It is time for Right to Work in Kentucky.

Kent Oyler is president and CEO of Greater Louisville Inc. – The Metro Chamber of Commerce

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