Labor, abortion bills get final approval from Kentucky legislature
In approving the bills, the House and Senate capped an opening week of the General Assembly that saw Republicans wield their new majority in both chambers to quickly advance policies at the top of their agenda.
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Bills reshaping union dues and wages on public construction projects in Kentucky are on their way to becoming law after getting final approval from the state legislature on Saturday.
Measures requiring ultrasounds before abortions and banning abortions more than 20 weeks into a pregnancy also easily passed during a rare weekend session of the General Assembly marked by protests from hundreds of union workers and labor organizers.
In approving the bills, the House and Senate capped an opening week of the legislature that saw Republicans wield their new majority in both chambers to quickly advance policies at the top of their agenda.
Chief among them was ‘right-to-work’ legislation, or House Bill 1, which allows workers to join unions but have the ability not to pay dues, even while getting union benefits.
Supporters, including the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, say such laws will make Kentucky more business-friendly and give workers the choice of whether to contribute financially to unions. Labor groups maintain the laws seek to weaken unions and, in turn, gut safety protections and workers’ rights.
“Companies don’t care if you pay dues or not; they care if you belong or not,” said Tom Williams, a member of UAW Local 3058 in Louisville, while waiting to enter the Capitol Saturday morning.
“The main thing about being a union member is having the legal right to strike and withhold your labor,” Williams said. “And without that leverage -- if enough people aren’t in the union -- then the company has no fear of you withholding your work.”
The House of Representatives, under GOP control this year for the first time since 1921, passed the right-to-work bill on Thursday. After clearing a Senate committee on Friday, the measure headed to the Senate.
Speaking Saturday on the Senate floor, Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, cited statistics he said show that jobs and union membership are increasing in states with similar right-to-work laws.
And he noted that most states in the South now have such laws, including states that border Kentucky.
“It is not the job of government to create jobs. It is the job of government to create an environment where businesses -- large and small, locally-owned or nationally-owned or internationally-owned – have an incentive to create jobs,” Thayer said. “The lack of a right-to-work law in the Commonwealth of Kentucky has been a barrier to job creation, commerce and free enterprise for decades.”
Senate Minority Floor Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, acknowledged there are many statistics surrounding right-to-work but concluded in his remarks in the Senate: “It is an effort to destroy the bargaining power of workers’ right to negotiate with their employers.”
Earlier Saturday morning, Jones told a rally of union members in the rotunda that right-to-work and other bills affecting unions are “special interest legislation.” He singled out the Kentucky chamber for its stance in support of right-to-work.
“Would the chamber of commerce let my law practice become a member of the chamber and go to chamber events and chamber dinners and chamber retreats without paying dues?” Jones said. “Yet they want you all to have to pay for the cost of collective bargaining and legal representation for people who don’t pay their fair share.”
The chamber has framed right-to-work, in part, as an issue of personal choice for workers, while also noting that individual Kentucky counties have passed right-to-work ordinances.
"I'm very pleased," Kentucky chamber president and CEO Dave Adkisson said after the Senate vote. "This put a sign on the front door of Kentucky that we're open for business."
Also on Saturday, the legislature has given final passage to:
-House Bill 2, which requires an ultrasound before a woman can have an abortion.
-House Bill 3, which abolishes prevailing wages paid to workers on certain public projects. Such laws had required that, on work costing at least $250,000, companies pay hourly wages, overtime and other benefits in line with the majority of workers, laborers, and mechanics in a county or area.
-Senate Bill 3, which requires the public disclosure of former and current state lawmakers’ pension benefits.
-Senate Bill 5, which outlaws abortions after 20 weeks, including for rape or incest victims.
-Senate Bill 6, which requires union members to authorize in writing the withholding of wages for union dues.
With the exception of the pension legislation, all of the bills passed by the House and the Senate have emergency clauses. That means they will become law once Gov. Matt Bevin signs them.
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