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Louisville Lawmaker Reviewing Possible Right-to-Work Ordinance

Louisville Metro Councilman Ken Fleming is preparing a bill that would forbid businesses with organized labor from firing employees who refuse to join unions or pay union dues.

The potential for a so-called “right to work” ordinance sponsored by GOP lawmakers comes on the heels of a Democraticproposal filed this week to raise the city’s minimum wage to $10.10per hour.

It also puts the national and statewide debate on the best way to help workers at the council level, which Republican council members have said is long overdue.

“Louisville is more of a Democratic, liberal atmosphere and it might be harder push to get something like this through,” Fleming told WFPL in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

“But if we’re really looking at the individual and giving them the liberty and the choice to choose the path they want to go, this gives them the latitude to join a union if they wish, or if they don’t want to that’s their prerogative as well.”

Fleming, R-7, said the idea of filing a “right to work” ordinance first came up during a GOP caucus meeting last week.

The councilman, however, credited Kentucky state Senate President Robert Stivers for asking the attorney general’s office on Monday to weigh-in on whether local governments have the authority to pass such a proposal.

In a Sept. 8 letter, Stivers cited the legal opinion by Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell that paved the way for Democrats to propose their wage bill. The Senate president asked if the same logic can be applied to municipalities seeking to approve right to work measures.

"We anticipate that this issue be of continuing interest to localities that are looking for innovative ways to attract new businesses,” said Stivers. “We also anticipate that this issue will come up on a statewide basis in the upcoming 2015 General Assembly legislative session.”

There are currently 24 states with right to work laws, which critics call an attack on organized labor. Opponents argue the laws undermine workers' ability to bargain for higher wages and other benefits for all employees.

A recent Kentucky survey, however, found a right-to-work bill is just as popular as a minimum wage hike among voters.

The Bluegrass Poll in August found 55 percent favored laws allowing individuals to work in businesses that have unions without joining them or paying their dues.

Unlike council Democrats, Fleming said he doesn’t plan on seeking a legal opinion from the county attorney’s office as minimum wage advocates did earlier this year.

“If they were to say no we can’t do this, then we’ll have to cross that bridge if it does come up,” he said. “I think it’d be totally hypocritical for them to do that.”

The councilman told WFPL she isn’t sure if he will file a separate ordinance or attach a “right to work” amendment to the Democrats' wage bill.