“A lot of working people voted for change in this election,” argued Bill Finn, the director of the Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council, as Kentucky legislators were shredding labor rights in the Bluegrass State. “They didn’t vote for this. They didn’t vote for a pay cut.”
Finn got that right. Kentucky Republicans launched the new year with a race to enact sweeping anti-labor legislation, and they weren’t concerning themselves with the question of whether they had a mandate to assault labor unions and undermine wages and workplace protections. They are moving immediately, aggressively, and thoroughly to implement an across-the-board assault on workers and the unions that represent them.
And with just two weeks to go before Donald Trump is inaugurated as president, Kentucky Republicans were doing something else. They were providing a powerful reminder of the threat to working families that arises when Republicans gain “trifecta control” (taking charge of the executive branch and both legislative chambers) of the governing process. Until this year, Democrats controlled the Kentucky House of Representatives and were able to block anti-labor legislation that was advanced by Republican Governor Matt Bevin and his allies in the Republican-controlled state Senate—with strong backing from national anti-union groups financed by the Koch brothers and other billionaire donors. But in November Republicans won a majority in the Kentucky House. That gave them complete control of the process, and they made it their first priority to approve anti-labor measures.
Union busting moved onto a fast track in Kentucky, where Republican legislators refused to even consider the arguments of workers, community leaders, responsible business owners, and academics who explained that assaults of worker rights do little or nothing to promote economic development—and much to harm working families. Among those expressing thoughtful opposition to the anti-union measures that were approved by Kentucky legislators was Bishop John Stowe of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington, who wrote in an open letter that “The weakening of unions by so-called ‘right to work’ laws, has been shown to reduce wages and benefits overall in the states where such laws have been enacted. This cannot be seen as contributing to the common good.”
Unfortunately, there was no stopping Kentucky’s newly empowered Republicans. They were on a deliberate and determined mission that was not going to be delayed by economic, social, or moral arguments. “The chants of union workers were little deterrent to Gov. Matt Bevin and his GOP colleagues in the Kentucky House and Senate, who have made approving the bills their top priority of the 2017 General Assembly,” the Lexington Herald-Leader reported Wednesday. “Shouts and banging could be heard from the hallway, but the meeting room itself was packed with supporters as the House Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment passed House Bill 1, which would allow workers to avoid paying union dues even if they work under a union-negotiated contract, and House Bill 3, which would repeal the prevailing wage law.”