Oldham County Right to Work bill tabled for later discussion

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Potential for lawsuit stays the hands of Oldham County Fiscal Court

By Rae Hodge

After high controversy ensued over the enacting of a county-level law, the Oldham County Fiscal Court tabled the proposed Right to Work local ordinance during their Mar. 17 meeting in La Grange. Oldham is the first county in Kentucky to table a Right to Work proposal.

The decision follows a Mar. 16 email sent out by Oldham County Judge-Executive David Voegele’s office, which said the Economic Development Committee of Oldham County Fiscal Court had voted to recommend tabling a proposed Right to Work ordinance for Oldham County, until a lawsuit involving a similar ordinance in Hardin County is settled in federal district court. The Economic Development Committee met last Friday.

In the release, Voegele is quoted to say, “Our information is that all sides are expecting a court decision in the near term, so it is likely the majority of the court will table the motion until the federal court makes a decision whether Hardin County’s new Right to Work ordinance is legal.”

When asked by Voegele during the Mar. 5 meeting of the court whether Oldham’s passage of the law could be illegal, Oldham County Attorney John Carter told the magistrates flatly, “The law’s against it.”

During the same Mar. 5 meeting Kentucky President of the AFL-CIO Bill Londrigan joined local opposition to the measure and testified before the court. He cited recent studies demonstrating a marked difference between Right to Work and non-Right to Work states in the amount of average wages per worker, noting that employees in Right to Work states earn nearly $5,000 less per year than others.

AFL-CIO is currently also involved in a lawsuit againt other counties which passed the ordinance. AFL-CIO claims the passage is in violation of constitutional statutes and oversteps the county’s authority.

Votes against tabling the Right to Work measure on Mar 17 included Magistrates J.D. Sparks and Steve Greenwell. The six other members of the court voted to table the discussion, holding a vote until a future meeting.

Advocates, however, are adamant that the ordinance is not anti-union, claiming that it will attract more businesses to the areas which pass the law. The measure, however, would allow non-union employees in unionized workplaces to skip paying dues to the union, although the unions would still be required to provide benefits like legal protection and health insurance negotiations.

The court room was full of witnesses on Mar. 17, many of which were union members. They spoke at length in opposition to the proposed measure, and the meeting was well-attended by security personel. The audience chimed out with their support and displeasure loudly at several points in the meeting. Most of the attendees came fully dressed in work uniforms. Many carried signs. Some of them mentioning Oldham County’s only major union shop, Kroger.

Members of the public approached the lectern with concerns and confusion. Many in attendance did not clearly understand what it meant to table a measure in parliamentary procedure.

One resident asked for a clarification, saying “Well, can you all go back tomorrow and bring up this issue and vote against it?”

Voegele specified that the measure could not again be taken up by the court without public notice, when it would again receive an additional reading. No timeline was given, however, the court meets every first and third Tuesday of the month at 2 p.m.. Their next scheduled meeting will be on Apr. 7.

A Right to Work proponent from Tampa attended the meeting also. His supportive statements on behalf of the ordinance were met with hostile jeers from the mostly-union crowd. The crowd, at their most pitched yelled at the man to “go home.” After going over the alotted amount of public speaking time, Voegele extended the man’s speaking time an additional 30 seconds, at which point the crowd began chanting a countdown. When the clock ran out, Voegele silenced the crowd

“We are Oldham County,” he said, reminding the crowd to continue their courtesy toward the visiting speaker.