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Kenton County to Adopt "Right to Work" Ordinance

Kenton County will pass a so-called "Right to Work" ordinance at its next meeting after hearing a first reading on Tuesday night in Covington.

"I have a fundamental issue with an employee required to pay (union) dues," said Judge-Executive Kris Knochelmann. He cited the story of a 17-year old working at a grocery store in the county being required to join the store's union. "Why should a 17-year old be forced to pay dues? We want to send the message that Kenton County is business-friendly."

Neither Knochelmann nor County Attorney Stacy Tapke, who drafted the ordinance, could say how many unions operate in Kenton County or what percentage of employees in the county are unionized. The ordinance would not apply to public sector unions such as those that represent employees within the City of Covington.

Right to Work is the title given to laws that allow employees to opt out of joining labor unions at their workplace and paying the associated dues while being protected from demotion of termination. Critics contend that such laws allow employees to benefit from collective bargaining on behalf of a union without paying for the benefit. 

All three county commissioners said that they would vote in favor of the ordinance at the next Fiscal Court meeting.

"I don't think it's right to have to pay dues," said Commissioner Jon Draud. "I think people should make a good wage, but it's not a wage issue. I think people shouldn't be forced to join a union."

"I'm a supporter of economic development issues," said Commissioner Beth Sewell when asked why should vote for the ordinance. "It gives liberty and freedom in the workforce. I'm not anti-union but I do think folks don't need to feel punished for making a decision not to join."

"I don't think you should be fired because you won't join a union," said Commissioner Joe Nienaber. He said the ordinance would make the county more competitive and that a statewide law would do the same for Kentucky.

State Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democratic candidate for governor this year, has stated that counties don't have the legal authority to enforce such laws at the local level though proponents argue that counties do have the authority under the so-called "Home Rule" act that offers more local control over state issues. 

The Republican-controlled Senate in Frankfort regularly pushes for a statewide law but the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives routinely rejects it. 

All members of the Kenton County Fiscal Court are Republicans which is also the case in neighboring Boone County which has also had a first reading of a right to work ordinance. Campbell County Judge-Executive Steve Pendery, who also presides over an entirely Republican Fiscal Court, has stated support for a similar measure there, too. 

Roughly a dozen Kentucky counties have voted on or heard readings of a Right to Work ordinance and some of those are headed for court. Logan County approved an ordinance this week while Oldham County heard a first reading last week. 

Leaders in these counties, who are facing legal challenges from labor unions, argue that Kentucky is at a disadvantage against Right to Work states, particularly those that border the Commonwealth like Indiana, Tennessee, and Virginia. Other states that border Kentucky, including Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, and West Virginia, are not Right to Work states.

"When businesses look to enter our community, one of the first questions they ask is if we're Right to Work," Knochelmann said. "We get pulled off the list by companies because we're not Right to Work."

Story & photo by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News