Kentucky Court Upholds the State’s Right-to-Work Law

Posted by Olivia Grady on Thursday, February 1st, 2018 at 2:16 pm - Permalink

On January 23, 2018, Judge Thomas Wingate of the Franklin Circuit Court in Kentucky upheld Kentucky’s Right-to-Work law.

Fred Zuckerman, President of Teamsters Local 89 in Kentucky, and other plaintiffs sued Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (R) on May 25, 2017. The plaintiffs claimed that the legislation violated the law by taking union members’ property without just compensation. They also claimed the law violated equal protection and arbitrary action provisions in the Kentucky Constitution, was special legislation, and lacked a stated emergency to pass it so quickly.

The court, however, ruled that the Right-to-Work law didn’t take union members’ property because there wasn’t a property interest and there wasn’t a taking.

Plaintiffs first claimed that future union services were property because they would have to provide these services to non-members who wouldn’t pay dues. Union services for plaintiffs were, in their view, comparable to lawyers provided to criminal defendants by the government. Plaintiffs also argued that union security contract clauses were property as well because the clauses allow unions to be the exclusive bargaining representatives. The court found that while existing union security contracts were property, future union security contracts were not because of the Right-to-Work law. Likewise, unions do not have a property interest in the future services they provide to non-members without a future contract with non-members to pay dues.

Next, the court examined whether there was a taking. The Kentucky Supreme Court created the Stearns Coal test to determine if there was a taking. Following the test, Kentucky courts analyze:

  1. The economic impact of the law
  2. Whether the regulation interfered with distinct investment-backed expectations
  3. Whether the government has invaded physically or is changing a public program for the public good
  4. What uses the regulation allows
  5. Whether the inclusion of the property was arbitrary or unreasonable
  6. Whether judicial review of the agency decision was available

The court found that the test hadn’t been met because the loss of non-member fees wasn’t harsh enough to be a taking. In addition, the union has known of this change in state legislation, and its expectation has changed. The Court also found that the law was passed for the common good and that unions have flexibility. Finally, the law wasn’t arbitrary or unreasonable, and there was judicial review. So, there has been no regulatory taking.

The court further ruled that the law didn’t violate Kentucky’s equal protection law because there was a rational basis for the law. The law was passed to create jobs and increase business investments. Since the law doesn’t violate an individual’s fundamental right or affect the status of a protected class of people, a rational basis is all that is needed.

Finally, the Act is not special legislation because the Act doesn’t apply to just one class or group. It applies to all employees in the state, and other groups, in addition to unions, may be penalized for violating the act. The act also specified that there was an emergency purpose, and the court is not supposed to determine whether the emergency actually existed.

Congratulations to Kentucky on another win for worker freedom.