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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Supporters say it would help create jobs. Opponents call it an attempt to bust labor unions.
A House committee heard both sides Thursday before rejecting a so-called right-to-work bill.
Twenty-four states now have right-to-work laws, including Indiana to the north and Tennessee to the south. And, at least for now, Kentucky will not join their ranks.
The right-to-work bill, HB 496, would prohibit making mandatory membership in a labor union and the payment of union dues, a condition of employment.
The bill is sponsored by House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover.
"So that we can enable more job creation," Hoover told the House Labor and Industry Committee.
Supporters say right-to-work needed to make Kentucky more competitive with other states in attracting new jobs.
"Our message today is for jobs. It's for more jobs than we're getting now. I'm absolutely convinced that we're losing several thousand jobs per year because we are not a right to work state," said David Adkisson of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
But labor groups packed the hearing room, calling the law an attempt to bust unions and lower wages.
"It's not about economic development. It's about lowering wages for hard-working people; taking away protections that they have," said Kentucky AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan to the applause of the crowd.
The committee overwhelmingly shot down the bill with lawmakers voting along party lines.
Republicans such as Rep. Adam Koenig (R-Erlanger) voted yes.
"We talk about jobs here in Frankfort all the time," said Koenig. "This is an opportunity for us to grow jobs, grow the pie."
The majority Democrats stood solidly against it.
"This is about destroying solidarity. It's about destroying our workers, and it's about destroying, I think, this country. And I vote no," said Rep. Mary Lou Marzian (D-Louisville).
Union supporters applauded the bill's defeat.
"This means we're going to be able to continue to organize in the state of Kentucky, try to bring more union membership, more jobs, and having a joint effort between the companies and the unions for a better workplace," said Kirk Gillenwaters, a retired auto worker and member of UAW Local 862 in Louisville.
But right to work supporters say they'll keep pushing the issue.
"I think Kentucky will eventually come about, but the question is, how many jobs do we lose in the meantime?" said Adkisson.
Right to Work will no doubt be a hot issue during the fall election campaign as Republicans try to seize control of the House and Democrats try to keep it.