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Amid Protests, GOP Legislature Moves ‘Right-To-Work’ Bill To Governor

Ryland Barton

The Kentucky legislature has awarded final passage to a handful of bills opposed by labor unions, most notably “right-to-work” legislation that would ban unionized companies from requiring employees to pay dues.

Union activists swarmed the Capitol as lawmakers altered the legislative calendar to meet on Saturday to approve Republican priorities at the end of the legislative session’s first week.

Rep. Stan Lee, a Republican from Lexington, said despite protests, voters showed they wanted conservative legislation when they voted to send GOP supermajorities to both legislative chambers.

“This is an approach that we’ve wanted to try for years and that the citizens said in November that ‘yeah, we want to try that,’” Lee said of the labor-related bills. “So we’re going to give it a try and if it doesn’t work, you know what? I’m sure the voters will let us know.”

Republicans took control of the state House of Representatives for the first time in 95 years this week, giving the party command of both legislative chambers and the governor’s mansion for the first time in state history.

Along with so-called right-to-work legislation, the GOP awarded final passage on Saturday to a repeal of the prevailing wage on public works projects and a provision requiring union workers to provide written requests to have dues automatically drawn from their paychecks.

Rep. Chris Harris, a Democrat from Forest Hills, said Republicans were targeting workers with the cluster of labor-related bill.

“Here we are again, hurting workers. That’s what we’ve done so far. It’s like they have a bullseye on their back this week,” Harris said.

Union protesters crowded in the House Gallery, applauding and booing through the proceedings. One woman was removed from the chamber after shouting “GOP hates labor.”

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell applauded the General Assembly for passing the “right-to-work” bill, saying that “Kentucky voters have spoken.”

“This is a great day for Kentucky workers who will no longer be forced to pay dues to be members of unions if they fail to represent their best interests,” McConnell said.

“The Kentucky voters have spoken, and Big Labor bosses should know that the new Republican majority in Frankfort is determined to use their mandate to fight for Kentucky workers, Kentucky jobs, and a stronger Middle Class.”

The bills now head to Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk. He’s expected to approve the legislation along with a handful of other Republican priorities passed on Saturday.

This story has been updated.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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