LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) --  A federal judge in Louisville has ruled that counties don’t have the power to pass “right-to-work” laws prohibiting businesses from compelling their employees to join unions and pay union dues as a condition of employment.

In an opinion signed Wednesday, U.S. District Judge David Hale struck down Hardin County’s 2015 right-to-work ordinance, saying it conflicts with the National Labor Relations Act.

Hardin County had attempted to ban mandatory union membership at union-covered workplaces; the collection of union dues via employee paycheck withholdings and “hiring hall” provisions whereby an employee is “recommended, approved, referred, or cleared by or through” a union as a condition of employment, according to Hale’s opinion.

Kentucky AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan praised Hale’s decision.

“These illegal ordinances would have affected all working people, union and non-union, by decreasing wages, lowering median household incomes, increasing poverty, and undermining workplace safety,” Londrigan said in a prepared statement.

Supporters say right-to-work makes it easier for Kentucky to compete for new business.

“We have not gotten our share of companies to look at our state because if there's a requirement for right to work, they don't include us in their site search,” said Brad Richardson, President of the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce.  “This is not about union busting.  This is about more business.  More business could mean more unions.”

Hardin County attorney John Lovett says he will take this case to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

But Richardson says there's another solution could easily resolve this controversial issue.

“Senate Bill 3 has been drafted.  That is right to work legislation.  That would eliminate this question if we became a right to work state,” Richardson said.

Hardin County’s right-to-work effort was one example of local governments in Kentucky testing the limits of their power with workplace regulations.

The Louisville Metro Council last year increased the minimum wage in Jefferson County to $7.75 an hour – up from the federal minimum of $7.25 – with further increases taking effect this summer and next.

The Kentucky Supreme Court is expected to decide this year whether Metro government’s ordinance is valid. Business groups argue that minimum wage policy is state-level issue.  

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