LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Wednesday that government workers can’t be forced to contribute money to labor unions that represent them will have minimal impact in Kentucky and Indiana, according to Louisville-area attorneys who represent unions and employers.

That’s because the states already have so-called right-to-work laws that allow workers to refuse any union dues or fees collected from their paychecks.

"Our laws already embrace what the Supreme Court did," said James U. Smith, a Louisville attorney who represents employers in their dealings with unions.

But in Kentucky, the high court’s ruling could allow some government workers to stop their financial contributions to a union sooner than they otherwise would have been able to, said Smith and labor attorney David Suetholz, whose clients include unions covering Louisville firefighters, school janitors and other municipal employees.

Republicans fast-tracked Kentucky’s right-to-work law soon after they took complete control of the state legislature in the November 2016 elections.

But the right-to-work provisions only kick in for employers and unions that reach new or extended labor contracts following the law’s passage in January 2017.


Many workers – for example, at Ford’s two Louisville plants and at UPS’ global air hub – operate under labor contracts that predate the right-to-work law.

The Supreme Court’s decision appears to give government workers in Kentucky the right to stop paying union fees immediately, regardless of when their labor contracts were signed, Smith said.

In the decision, the justices scrapped a 41-year-old precedent that had allowed states to require that public employees pay some fees to unions that represent them, even if the workers choose not to join.

The 5-4 decision fulfills a longtime wish of conservatives to get rid of the so-called fair share fees that non-members pay to unions in roughly two dozen states. The court ruled that the laws violate the First Amendment by compelling workers to support unions they may disagree with.

“States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees,” Justice Samuel Alito said in his majority opinion for the court’s five conservative justices.

President Donald Trump weighed in minutes after the decision was handed down, while Alito still was reading a summary of it from the bench.

“Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!” Trump said in a tweet.

Suetholz, a Democrat who is also looking to unseat state Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, in November’s general election, called Supreme Court ruling a “travesty.”

“I think this is going to be yet another wake up call to an already awakening working class that they are under attack,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2018 WDRB News. All rights reserved.