(CN) – Local governments, like states, can enact right-to-work laws that ban employers from requiring union membership as a condition of employment, the Sixth Circuit ruled Friday.
In 2015, Hardin County, Ky., passed an ordinance prohibiting employers from requiring workers to join a union soon after they are hired, or pay nominal dues to support collective bargaining if they decide not to join.
Nine unions, led by a local of the United Auto Workers, immediately challenged the law, arguing that it is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act.
The NLRA allows states to adopt such right-to-work legislation, but the unions argued that county or city governments should not be given the same exemption.
A federal judge ruled for the unions in February, but the Sixth Circuit reversed in part Friday.
The Cincinnati-based appeals court said states may delegate their authority to local governments, so it makes no sense to read the NLRA’s use of “state” as inclusive of local municipalities.
“Contrary to the district court’s ruling, the Supreme Court’s rulings in Mortier and Ours Garage and the Sixth Circuit’s ruling in State of Tennessee v. FCC represent strong support for Hardin County’s position that § 14(b)’s use of ‘state’ includes political subdivisions,” Judge David McKeague said, writing for the three-judge panel. “We find no persuasive basis – whether in the statutory language, legislative history or rules of construction – for distinguishing or circumventing them.”
All three judges serving on the Sixth Circuit panel were appointed by Republican presidents.
Kentucky has long been a battleground between union supporters and right-to-work activists.
With the Democratic Party in control of the Kentucky House of Representatives, it is unlikely that any right-to-work legislation could pass on the state level, but the Sixth Circuit’s ruling opens the door for local legislation to significantly reduce union power in the state.
However, the panel said that the Hardin County ordinance could not prohibit “hiring hall” agreements, under which prospective workers are required to be recommended by a union, or “dues checkoff,” which allows employers to deduct union dues from employees’ paychecks, because these arrangements are regulated by a separate federal law, the Labor Management Relations Act, which does not provide the same exemption.