KY unions prepare for fight over Right to Work laws
State Rep. Jim DeCeasre (Source: LRC)
Map showing states with Right to Work laws
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Thousands showed up at a Labor Day picnic for union members in Louisville Monday. The large crowd is a sign state lawmakers who want to cut the power of organized labor will have a fight on their hands.
Twenty four states, about half the country, now have right to work laws which basically say you can't force employees to join a union if they don't want to. Union members in Louisville said Monday those laws are bad for workers in a state, where union membership, is actually on the rise.
Tharon Deacon is a father, a UPS worker, and a lifelong union member.
"That's what everyone is striving for is to be able to take care of their families," Deacon said as he pushed a stroller with his two foster daughters through the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council's Labor Day picnic at the Louisville Zoo.
Deacon said the collective bargaining power of unions has been critical in protecting his benefits and pay raises. A message echoed by the dozen or so unions who were part of the annual picnic, which was organized by Charlie Clephas, vice-president of the GLCLC.
"you take that threat away that there is no union, and see what they will get," Clephas said. He added the only groups in favor of right to work laws "is the big corporations. The people that want to get rid of the unions."
Representative Jim DeCeasre, a Warren County Republican, filed four failed bills last session that would add Kentucky to the growing list of right to work states. Right to work laws repeal requirements to force workers to join unions while giving states more leeway to negotiate lower wage and pension benefits for its employees.
In 2012 Indiana and Michigan became the 23rd and 24th states to adopt right to work laws. Meanwhile, Kentucky is the last state in the southeast that hasn't followed suit.
In a phone interview, DeCeasre said not having right to work laws bad for Kentucky's economy. He believes companies looking to set up shop will pass Kentucky over for states that have cut union's negotiating power by passing right to work laws.
DeCeasre said he's going to offer a new round of right to work legislation next session. Union leaders in Louisville say they'll be ready.
"It's up to us to try and stop it," Clephas said.
Tharon Deacon is counting on it.
"The unions have been around for hundreds of years," Deacon said. "They're not going to run them out."
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show union membership rose from 8.9 in 2011 to 11.4% in 2012. In Indiana, union membership dropped from 11.3% to 10.0 over that same period. Nationwide, the numbers are also down slightly, from 11.8% in 2011 to 11.3% in 2012.
In March, DeCeasre's office did a poll of 833 likely voters that showed 71% supported right to work laws. But added that unions still have strong support in Frankfort, and that passing right to work laws in Kentucky is still going to be an uphill battle.