2 bills targeting labor unions advance

Darron Cummings/AP

From the Courier-Journal:

by Adam Beam

FRANKFORT, Ky. - House Republicans advanced a pair of bills targeting labor unions on Wednesday, a show of force for the new GOP majority over thunderous protests from hundreds of workers who watched helplessly from the hallway.

The bills approved by a House committee would ban mandatory union membership as a condition of employment, would not allow employers to deduct union dues from workers’ paychecks without written permission, and would forbid public employees from going on strike. It also would repeal Kentucky’s prevailing-wage law, which guarantees higher wages for workers on construction projects paid for with public money.

The bills have been at the top of Republican wish lists for years, only to be thwarted by the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. But this year, Republicans have super majorities in both chambers, clearing the way for them to act aggressively during the legislature’s first week. Republican House Speaker Jeff Hoover said the legislature will likely hold a rare Saturday session so it can deliver the bills to Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk before taking a three-week recess.

“We’re making a statement that we are doing things a different way,” Hoover said.

Hundreds of union workers crammed the hallways of the legislative office building on Wednesday, but most were not allowed into the public hearing. That’s because Americans for Prosperity, a lobbying group that supports the bill, reserved the committee room for a breakfast Wednesday morning. Once the breakfast was over, supporters stayed in the room and took most of the seats, prompting chants of “suits in there, boots out here” from the pro-union supporters outside.

Bevin testified before the committee, an unusual tactic for a sitting governor. He needed state troopers to escort him through the crowd of protesters, which loudly booed him as he entered the meeting room and beat on the walls during his testimony. But once inside, Bevin received a standing ovation. He shrugged at the protests, telling the committee it was “going to be a fun day.”

“I encourage you, be strong. Don’t be distracted by the noise and the static. Do what is the right thing to do. This, too, shall pass,” said Bevin, who debated a few of the union workers in the hallway after his testimony.

Kentucky is the last state in the South that has not banned mandatory union membership as a condition of employment. Lonnie Calvert, a 44-year-old union construction worker from Louisville, said his paycheck in states that have so-called right-to-work laws are about half of what he makes in states that do not have the laws in place. He says that’s because labor unions in right-to-work states are weaker and have less bargaining power.

“I was always proud to say I was from Kentucky. Now I can’t say that,” he said.

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