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Is Kentucky a Right-to-Work State? | Abney Law

Is Kentucky a Right-to-Work State?

Short Answer: Yes, Kentucky has a law on the books making it a Right-to-Work state.

What does Right-To-Work mean?

Kentucky’s right-to-work law makes it illegal for a worker to be required to join or remain in the union of a unionized workplace. The law also makes illegal for workers to be required to pay union dues even if they directly benefit from higher wages and benefits negotiated by a union.

In 2017, Kentucky’s legislature passed, and the Governor signed, 2017 HB2 1, commonly referred to as the Kentucky Right to Work Act. The new law specifically amended KRS 336.130(3) to provide that no employee is required to become, or remain, a member of a labor organization, or to pay dues, fees, or assessments to a labor organization.

In 2018, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that Kentucky’s Right to Work Act was constitutional and could remain in effect. See Zuckerman v. Bevin, 565 S.W.3d 580, 605 (Ky. 2018) Kentucky’s Right to Work Act remains in effect today.

What Does the Kentucky Right to Work Act mean for Me?

At the most basic level, the Kentucky Right to Work Act means you cannot be required to join a Union or pay union dues as a condition of your employment in Kentucky. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2021 union members only accounted for 7.2 percent of wage and salary workers in Kentucky, compared with 7.5 percent in 2020.[1]https://www.bls.gov/regions/southeast/news-release/unionmembers_kentucky.htm#:~:text=In%202021%2C%20union%20members%20accounted,of%20Labor%20Statistics%20reported%20today.

In reality, most Kentuckians are not members of a union and, therefore, are not directly impacted by Kentucky’s right-to-work law.

Right-to-Work v. Employment-at-Will

At Abney Law we often hear clients and potential clients use the terms Right-to-Work and Employment-at-Will interchangeably. However these are two distinct terms with very different meanings. As described above, right-to-work simply means that an employee cannot be required to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. The employment-at-will doctrine, on the other hand, means that an individual can be fired for any reason, even if it’s a bad or unfair reason, with some very important exceptions that are discussed in depth here. Right-to-work laws really only apply in situations where a union is present in the workplace, while the employment-at-will doctrine generally applies to all private employees in Kentucky who don’t have an employment contract.

Criticisms of Right-to-Work Laws

Opponents of right-to-work argue that these laws are deceptively named efforts to weaken the bargaining power of unions and workers. Right-to-work laws are designed to make it more difficult for Unions to effectively represent their paying members and to make more difficult for new unions to become established. According to a 2015 study by the Economic Policy Institute, wages for a typical full-time worker in right-to-work states are 3.1 percent lower—or $1,558 annually—than those in non-right-to-work states.[2]Elise Gould and Will Kimball, “‘Right-to-Work’ States Still Have Lower Wages” (Washington: Economic Policy Institute, 2015), available … Continue reading.