Despite union jeers, Right to Work, prevailing wage repeal fast-tracked for Saturday vote passage

Despite union jeers Right to Work, prevailing wage repeal fast-tracked for Saturday vote passage
Updated: Jan. 4, 2017 at 7:53 PM EST
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FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - Senators and Representatives face a rare Saturday session to deliver changes to labor and wage laws that the new Republican super-majorities in both chambers insist are critical to making the Commonwealth more business-friendly.

"People across this state are begging for that change," House Speaker Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) said following Wednesday's adjournment. "We're serious about doing things differently and going about in a new direction."

Hoover is lead sponsor of both measures. The new direction included a gantlet of union members who packed the hallway of the Capitol Annex to jeer and shout down Gov. Matt Bevin as he entered the hearing of the House Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment to give testimony.

"It's like being in the eighth grade I guess," Bevin said, as the chants included pounding the walls when Kentucky State Police prevented protesters from entering. "It doesn't serve the purpose."

The Right to Work bill would rescind Kentucky's mandate that workers joining unions and pay union dues if their employers recognize such organizations as collective bargaining agents.

"It poisons us from the inside," said Shelbyville's Matthew Embry, president of Local 3310 of the Communications Workers of America, based in Louisville. "It starts turning people against each other."

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"The irony is that those that (sic) are opposed to this feel it somehow will come as a threat to them," Bevin told lawmakers. "Right to Work actually creates more jobs for union members."

The President of Kentucky's Chamber of Commerce echoed Bevin's claim that one-third of Fortune 500 companies won't set up shop or expand in states without Right to Work legislation.

"(Companies) are looking for ways to eliminate you," David Adkisson said. "We need to be able to compete effectively."

Others asserted that Indiana has gained more than 50,000 union jobs since adopting such legislation in 2013.

"In the past 36 months there have been four projects (in southern Indiana) where Right to Work played a role in the company's decision," said Kevin Grove, a commercial real estate and site selection specialist based in Louisville.

Embry and Bill Londergan, head of Kentucky's AFL-CIO, an umbrella for organized labor organizations, argued that Right to Work legislation would erode union membership by creating workplace welfare.

"That tension starts to build and you have less members in the local," Embry said. "Then your membership drops and it makes locals look inept."

"Kentucky is in fact closer to economic recovery than to any of our Right to Work neighbors," testified Anna Baumann, of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

Later, committee members heard from those seeking a repeal of Kentucky's Prevailing Wage law that requires contractors of taxpayer-dollar-financed public projects to pay a regionally adjusted hourly rate.

"Such requirements add $6 million yearly to paying off the construction bonds that financed buildings and improvements to Boone County Schools," Superintendent Dr. Randy Poe said.

"We're six buildings behind (meeting needs)," Dr. Poe said. "That's 109 teachers I can't hire."

Opponents of repeal argued that Prevailing Wage helps local contractors and tax revenues by keeping dollars in the counties where the work is performed.

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Both bills cleared Committee easily, along party lines. A House floor vote could come Thursday.

Democrats have protested that the fast-tracking has made it difficult to know exactly what the legislation would mandate. Rep. Rocky Adkins (D-Sandy Hook) gave larger voice to their sentiments in addressing the full House Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm concerned that, good or bad, we're not fully informed as to what these bills would do," Adkins said. "I would use caution."

"You will have an opportunity to offer amendments," Hoover assured. "There will be opportunities on the floor."

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