Local governments in Kentucky can increase the minimum wage, but a federal judge ruled Wednesday that they can’t ban labor unions from requiring employees to join them.
In competing court cases that pitted Democrats against Republicans in a pair of polarizing workplace issues, the courts have now declared them distinct.
When Louisville became the first city in Kentucky to increase its minimum wage in 2014, the next day Warren County passed a law banning mandatory labor union membership as a condition of employment — the so-called “right to work” legislation. Eventually, 11 other counties, including Hardin County, would join them.
State lawmakers have fought each other to a stalemate on both issues in recent years, inspiring like-minded local government officials to tackle the topics on their own. Lawsuits ensued in both cases.
Last year, a state judge ruled Louisville’s minimum wage increase legal. An appeal is pending before the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge David Hale invalidated Hardin County’s ban, ruling that only state governments can opt out of a federal law that allows closed shop or agency shop agreements that require employees to join a labor union or pay union dues regardless of whether they are union members.
Kentucky Republicans have tried to ban such agreements for years, arguing that they act as a disincentive for companies to come to the state and hire workers. Democrats typically defend the agreements, saying they lead to higher wages and a more secure workforce.
This is the second time a judge has thrown out a local right-to-work law in Kentucky. The first time was in 1965 in Shelbyville. But since then, the Kentucky legislature has delegated some powers to local governments, allowing them to act on the state’s behalf. That’s why local governments say they have the authority to pass local right-to-work laws, even though federal law says only states can do that.