Kentucky continues to lack right-to-work law

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Column by Jim Waters

Coincidence may indeed be, as Albert Einstein put it, “God’s way of remaining anonymous.”

But it cannot explain why the overwhelming majority of business-friendly states also offer right-to-work protections for their citizens.  

It’s not a coincidence that Kentucky remains without such a policy.

Labor bosses take full advantage of the fact that most Kentuckians probably don’t even realize that individual workers at companies with union representation are forced to pay dues to that union or receive a pink slip – even if they don’t agree with the political positions that those monies are used to promote.

A right-to-work law for the Bluegrass State would make one simple, but important, change to current labor policy: No longer would workers be forced to join a union. Instead, they could choose whether or not to join.

The reality is that the representatives of companies looking to relocate or expand want to know: “Does your state have a right-to-work law?”

If not, owners of large manufacturing operations that assume the risk associated with expanding or relocating their companies conclude: No right-to-work law means an unfriendly atmosphere for businesses.

Who wants to go where they are not welcomed?

Kentuckywas recently listed in the bottom-15 of CNBC’s recent listing of business-friendly states. In a separate ranking by the same network, our state was nowhere close to the 10 states that had made the biggest comebacks during the sluggish recovery from the Great Recession.

Seven of those 10 states have right-to-work laws, which senior correspondent Scott Cohn notes was a major consideration in the “Workforce” category.

Along with rating states on the availability of an educated workforce, “we also consider union membership and the states’ right-to-work laws,” Cohn writes. “While organized labor contends that a union workforce is a quality workforce, that argument, more often than not, does not resonate with business.”

There’s not a whole of “coincidentin’” goin’ on here – especially considering these comments come from a division of NBC News, which is not exactly a union-averse operation.

Among CNBC’s business-friendly states overall, 13 of the 15 at the bottom of the list – including Kentucky, which is ranked No. 36 – lack right-to-work laws.

By the same token, 12 of the 15 states considered friendliest to business have right-to-work laws, including the top 5 states.

Is it coincidence that two of the states considered the friendliest to business are neighbors of Kentucky – Virginia (No. 9) and Tennessee (No.14) – and have right-to-work laws while the Bluegrass State, which lacks such a policy, finds itself at No. 36?

Is it coincidence that Kentucky, from which both Fruit of the Loom in Jamestown and Toyota in Erlanger chose recently to leave, lacks right-to-work protections for employees? Is it coincidence that Toyota went to Texas, a right-to-work state ranked No. 2 on CNBC’s business-friendly rankings? Is it coincidence that neither went to a state without a right-to-work law?

Is it coincidence that gun manufacturer Beretta recently decided not to expand its operations in Maryland after that state passed expanded firearms regulations?

Is it coincidence that Kentucky lost out on the Beretta expansion despite having one of the least restrictive gun-regulation environments in the country, and despite the fact that the company apparently was offered land here at no cost, incentives that would allow it to operate free of state taxes for 15 years and local property taxes for 30 years, and more than $1 million in cash for infrastructure development?

The case for coincidence involving Beretta might be stronger if it were not for the fact that Tennessee, like Kentucky, is gun-friendly, but unlike our commonwealth, also is business-friendly in many respects, including protecting the freedom of its workers to decide for or against union membership without their jobs being at stake.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com.