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Reflections


Kentucky Passes Labor Reforms

by Jerry Shenk
 

Kentucky, one of four states which, upon entering the Union, kept "commonwealth" as its official designation, just passed labor reforms. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania did not.

Following the January installation of the party's first Kentucky House majority in 95 years, Republicans passed a number of conservative reforms to reverse years of Democrats' economic tinkering, end union favoritism and provide taxpayer relief.

Kentucky Republicans immediately passed House Bill 1, a right-to-work law, the first element of any workers' bill of rights. In Kentucky, as in 26 other states, it is now illegal to mandate the automatic collection of union dues as a condition of employment from workers who don't wish union affiliation. To date, Pennsylvania legislators have spurned right-to-work initiatives.

Then, passing House Bill 3, Kentucky Republicans eliminated the "prevailing wage," a scheme that benefits unions by inflating labor costs for publicly-financed construction projects. Under prevailing wage laws, roads, bridges and public buildings are overpriced. Pennsylvania still legislates an artificially-high prevailing wage.

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed both bills, saying, "It is an honor for me to sign into law these historic pieces of legislation that…guarantee important freedoms for workers and set our Commonwealth on a course for unparalleled opportunity and prosperity."

For decades, in Kentucky, in national races and elsewhere, including Pennsylvania, organized labor has been Democrats' most generous ATM, cumulatively "investing" far more than any other special interest. Kentucky has liberated unwilling participants from labor's grasp and undermined the cozy anti-worker, anti-taxpayer quid pro quo between Democrats and their union financiers.

Partisan politics, you say? Nonsense. It would have been simple — and profitable -- for Kentucky Republicans to open Big Labor's cash spigots for themselves by winking at and allowing the unions' coveted closed-shop and prevailing wage laws to stand.

Republican majorities in both chambers of Pennsylvania's legislature passed up opportunities to enact labor reforms during former Republican Governor Tom Corbett's administration. Corbett supported right-to-work, but observed that the Pennsylvania legislature "lacks the will" to pass it. Why? Campaign cash explains lawmakers' antipathy to labor policy reforms. Public records reveal millions of dollars in generous union campaign contributions to Pennsylvania legislators of both parties.
Instead, in 2013, Pennsylvania's Republican legislature passed — and Corbett signed — a massive gasoline tax increase that might have been avoided by eliminating the prevailing wage law to lower the costs of infrastructure improvement and construction. Pennsylvania's prevailing wage regulations increase the total costs of public construction projects by 10 to 30 percent - $1 to $3 billion in excess annual costs.
Unions don't own every Pennsylvania Republican, just enough of the right ones. Had GOP legislators cooperated with a Republican governor on key labor issues, Pennsylvanians might not have elected Democratic Governor Tom Wolf. Wolf's campaign received nearly $3.5 million in union contributions, so he remains committed to increasing Pennsylvania's taxes to indulge the interests of his paymasters in the trade, teachers and public employee unions.

Kentucky's thoroughbred Republicans are excellent examples for Pennsylvania, whose legislature should privatize sales of Kentucky Bourbon, too.



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