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Right-to-work laws actually can benefit labor unions

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Bluegrass Beacon column by Jim Waters

Labor-union workers wearing ugly green T-shirts verbally accosted me at the end of last week’s news conference in the Capitol Annex promoting a right-to-work policy for Kentucky – something employees in 24 other states enjoy.

They suggested that supporters, including myself, of allowing Kentucky workers the freedom to decide whether to join a labor union without it affecting their ability to get or keep a job are wrong on two fronts: (1) we don’t care about their jobs or futures and (2) we overstate the positive economic impact that a right-to-work law would have.

I requested that one very emotional lady in the group provide me with credible evidence to support her claims that right-to-work policies don’t improve employment and incomes. I gave her my card. She promised to send me the information and make her case. I’m still waiting for her email.

A tall blustery gentleman accompanying her shouted out to the distinguished group of legislators and business leaders at the conclusion of the news conference: “Why don’t you care about our jobs?”

He repeated that several times as he moved aggressively toward lawmakers and their guests at the front of the room while jabbing his finger toward them defiantly. 

Considering how upset this gentleman (he wouldn’t give his name) was just with that group of reasonable Kentuckians, who simply want to give workers a choice concerning union membership, I only could speculate as to what his reaction might be toward a fellow Kentuckian crossing a picket line to provide for his family.

I also wonder if rank-and-file union members – those actually doing the hard work on the floors and in the factories every day and not the bosses obsessed with left-wing political campaigns – might be missing a great opportunity by opposing a right-to-work policy in Kentucky.

After all, membership in labor unions grew the most last year in right-to-work states.

Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dave Adkisson noted at last week’s news conference that union membership grew faster in neighboring Tennessee in 2013 than any other state. Unions in the Volunteer State added 31,000 members and grew by a whopping 25 percent just last year.

Union membership increased by more than 19 percent in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina and by more than 13 percent in Virginia – another of Kentucky’s neighbors.

“So this is not a union-busting bill to try to get rid of unions or union membership,” Adkisson rightly said. “It actually is for economic prosperity – where unions would have a greater opportunity to organize in plants because you’ve got a growing economy.”

Why would unions deny themselves that opportunity?  

You never will convince me that union members don’t want a better life for their families or for their children to be able to find a good job in Kentucky when they graduate.  

You also will never convince me that Kentucky’s rank-and-file union members are not as fiercely independent as Daniel Boone and his fellow pioneers who bridged the Cumberland Gap in the 18th century.

I also refuse to accept the notion that descendants of such a great pioneer – who came here in the first place because of his passion for freedom – will, in the end, deny their fellow Kentuckians the right to make their own choices and determine their own destinies.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com.