KY’s new abortion, labor laws: Effective immediately doesn't necessarily mean immediately affected

KY’s new abortion, labor laws: Effective immediately doesn't necessarily mean immediately affected
The Kentucky State Capitol

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - The General Assembly's new Republican super-majorities considered them Seven Bills for Seven Ills: Two new restrictions on abortion, three targeting labor unions and one each disclosing lawmakers' retirement pensions and the governance mess at the University of Louisville.

But this rocket-docket won't affect everyone immediately, even though all seven measures became law the moment Governor Matt Bevin signed them.

"We're not gonna stop," said James DeWeese, of Louisville's Teamsters Local #89, the union that represents drivers for United Parcel Service. "We're gonna go back to our workshops! We're gonna explain this to people!"

DeWeese was part of a large organized labor contingent to fill the Capitol Rotunda Saturday, knowing full well they could do nothing to prevent a right-to-work bill and a repeal of the prevailing wage from passing.

"This will mean incredible opportunities for the Commonwealth," Bevin said in a video that appeared on his Facebook page this past weekend.

Bevin had argued that closed shops, requiring workers join unions if their employers had agreed to collective bargaining and contracts, cost Kentucky new jobs and company expansions.

"It means lower wages," said Todd Dunn, President of United Auto Workers Local #862, the union for Ford's Kentucky Truck Plant on Chamberlain Lane and the Louisville Assembly plant on Fern Valley Road.

Republicans also have repealed the prevailing wage law, that required contractors pay union-scale on taxpayer-dollar financed public projects.

"It's very hard to find any data on what the laws have done in those states," UofL School of Law Professor Ariana Levinson said Monday.

Levinson represented workers and unions in labor disputes prior to joining the Brandeis faculty.

"These laws (right-to-work and the prevailing wage repeal) aren't retroactive," she said. "If you're mid-contract, that's still in force. The tests will come when those contracts expire."

Federal law already allows workers to opt out of paying union dues, but they must pay a corresponding agency fee to cover the labor organization's expenses.
The new law means Kentucky employers no longer must require union membership as a condition of hiring or keeping a job.

"How much it changes depends on how solid an individual union is," Levinson said. "You should think about what that union representation means to you."

"There is still much work left to do," Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) told a House panel Friday.

The message applies to labor laws, but Stivers' subject at hand was his bill designed to give the University of Louisville a Board of Trustees free of legal challenges that have put the search for a new President on-hold.

"But we can't say whether or not it fixes the basic problem," said Sen. Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville). "And that's how having the University's accreditation on probation." 

"This place has been under interim leadership for about six months," student trustee Aaron Vance told the House Committee on State Government. "I don't know what one more week or three more weeks is gonna really do."

The new law gives Bevin the Board size he wants; 10 appointees rather than 17. A Post-Secondary Education Nominating Committee would vet applications to cull 30 nominees, from which Bevin would choose. But his choices would require Senate confirmation.

"We - the General Assembly - have the power to create or abolish college Boards - even colleges," Stivers told House members.

Republicans are basing their assertions on precedent that then Gov. Brereton Jones (D-Midway) set in 1992, by abolishing all of Kentucky's public university boards after Jones' predecessor, the late Gov. Wallace Wilkinson, appointed himself a University of Kentucky Trustee prior to leaving office. 

The Council on Post-Secondary Education supported that assertion in a letter to House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins (D-Sandy Hook), seeking clarification. The Council's letter concluded that Stivers' bill violated no provisions that would threaten UofL's accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS.

SACS placed UofL on one year's probation, citing Bevin's "political interference" by replacing the current politically-and-racially imbalanced Board with 10 nominees of his own choosing. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear sued, and Franklin Circuit Court agreed with his claims that Bevin's Executive Order violated two Kentucky statutes. One allows for removal of Trustees only for cause. Another statute fixes the size of the Board at 20; 17 appointees, plus representatives of UofL's faculty, staff and student body.

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"We don't accredit the Legislature, we accredit the institution," said Dr. Pamela Cravey, communications director for SACS' Committee on Colleges. "We're looking at what the Institution has to do to become compliant with our accreditation."

SACS is expected to notify UofL of its findings Wednesday, one day before the "illegally constituted" Board of Trustees is set to meet again.

"We're operating on the presumption that that Board is the Board until it's replaced," UofL media relations director John Karman said Monday.

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