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Employment Blog

Are Local Right-To-Work Laws Legal: Recent Lawsuit Could Provide Definitive Answer

Authored by Ruder Ware Attorneys
Posted on January 19, 2015
Filed under Employment

On January 14, 2015, a group of labor unions—led by the UAW and UFCW—filed suit against Hardin County, Kentucky, in response to a municipal “right-to-work” ordinance [a copy of the complaint is available here:  United Automobile Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America Local 3047]. Through the lawsuit, the unions allege that the National Labor Relations Act preempts [overrides and does not permit] local right-to-work measures. My colleague, Dean Dietrich, recently posted about so-called right-to-work laws—his post is available here: Indiana Supreme Court Holds Right-to-Work Law is Constitutional. However, as a refresher, right-to-work laws are, in simplest form, laws permitted under the NLRA that prevent companies from terminating the employment of employees who do not pay union dues. Unions routinely [and legally, consistent with the NLRA] negotiate collective bargaining agreements with so-called “union security clauses,” requiring all workers to pay union dues or lose their jobs. Right-to-work laws prohibit this type of arrangement.

Approximately 24 states have passed right-to-work legislation into law—most recently, Indiana. This is not surprising, as there is no debate that the NLRA permits right-to-work laws at the “State and Territorial” level. There is also legal support for the proposition that local right-to-work measures, such as the ordinance enacted by Hardin County, Kentucky, are indeed “state” measures [the idea being that counties and cities are political subdivisions of states—and thus, counties, cities and states are one in the same].  However, there are only a couple of instances in which counties or cities have enacted right-to-work laws at the “local” level. In these rare instances, courts have not been kind to local right-to-work measures, and have stricken these local laws on various grounds.

The Hardin County decision will certainly be worth watching, as the impact on labor-management relations is considerable and far-reaching. If the parties have the intestinal fortitude, this case could find its way to the Supreme Court of the United States. Our group of labor relations attorneys will follow this case closely—and will keep you posted.