Bluegrass Beacon: Right-to-work means more jobs – in suits and boots

BluegrassBeaconLogoIn a single day during the first week of the legislative session — not to speak of the entire week itself — Bowling Green Rep. Jim DeCesare’s Economic Development and Workforce Investment Committee did more to bring meaningful growth to Kentucky than the former Democratically controlled House did in 95 years.

While labor-union representatives filled the hallway outside Room 171 at the Capitol Annex with chants of “suits in there, boots in there,” committee members – meeting for the first time under the new GOP banner flying high in Frankfort after being folded up for nearly a century – removed serious economic barriers to making Kentucky’s economy great again by fast-tracking bills that will implement right-to-work protections for employees and remove expensive prevailing-wage mandates on public projects.

The right-to-work legislation was one of seven bills — three of which involved important labor reforms — passed in the historic Saturday session held later that same week. Gov. Matt Bevin’s signature soon thereafter made Kentucky the 27th right-to-work state in America.

DeCesare handled his first meeting as committee chairman masterfully, allowing full debate from both sides while insisting on civility and a respectful tone.

“We are doing things a different way,” newly anointed House Speaker Jeff Hoover told the committee.

“Different” is an understatement.

It’s been exasperating for years to watch politicians eat up precious taxpayers’ resources in Frankfort funding a January coma in which nothing beyond filing awkward, meaningless bills got done before Groundhog Day rolled around.

Actually producing? Unheard of.

And, during the first week? Has it ever happened?

The first week of this year’s legislative session was like walking into a bright, sunny day after being stuck for nearly a century in a room darkened by the pessimism and sheer obstructionism of the past and failed ruling elite.

The initial “Whoa! That’s bright!” turned into a “Wow, what an awesome day!” which led to “What an awesome week!” after it began to sink in just how pivotal the beginning of this year’s General Assembly session would be in Kentucky’s history.

With passage of right-to-work, Kentuckians can expect solid economic improvement.

Compare what happened in West Virginia, which, like Kentucky, dragged its heels on right-to-work for years until passing it last year, to what happened in Indiana and Michigan.

Vincent Vernuccio of the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy found:

  • Average wages in both Indiana and Michigan increased after right-to-work laws were passed.
  • Since Indiana became a right-to-work state in 2012, its average wage rose faster than West Virginia’s.
  • Between 2012 – when Michigan passed its right-to-work law – and mid-2015, incomes in the Great Lakes State rose more than 9 percent, which was faster than both West Virginia and the national average.
  • Between 2012 and 2014, average hourly wages rose by 56 cents to $19.94 in Indiana, 56 cents to $21.70 in Michigan but only 37 cents to $18.21 in West Virginia.

Vernuccio also reports that when cost-of-living is taken into consideration and “you look at what people can actually buy with their money, workers in right-to-work states have 4.1 percent higher incomes than workers in non-right-to-work states.”

But if you doubt those state-to-state comparisons, consider what’s happened right here in Kentucky.

Since passing the nation’s first local right-to-work ordinance, Warren County has landed more than $1 billion in capital investment from companies who’ve signed to expand or relocate in southcentral Kentucky.

Per Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics, there currently are 55,000 available job openings today in that one county.

Plus, Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon says he anticipates another 12,000 job prospects in the very near future.

If such growth can occur in a single county in southcentral Kentucky, imagine what will happen across the Bluegrass State with a right-to-work policy that attracts business and protects individual workers from being forced to pay union dues.

All kinds of jobs are coming to Kentucky. Some require suits; some boots.

Doesn’t Kentucky need more of both?

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read his weekly Bluegrass Beacon column at He can be reached at and @bipps on Twitter.

News release: It’s a new day in My Old Kentucky Home

For Immediate Release: Friday, January 7, 2017

Contact: Jim Waters @ 859.444-5630 (office) 270.320.4376 (cell) 

(FRANKFORT, Ky.) — Legislators today in a historic Saturday session replaced the “Closed for Business” signs that had kept opportunity out of the Bluegrass State with an unmistakable statement that the commonwealth is now “Open for Business” by passing legislation making Kentucky the nation’s 27th right-to-work state.

“Just like we saw in Thursday’s passage by the Kentucky House of Representatives, lawmakers’ courageous determination to do the right thing was on full display today with the state Senate’s final passage of House Bill 1 by a 25-12 margin,” Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters said.

“We’re thankful for our supporters who have partnered with us for more than a decade as we made both the economic and liberty cases for right-to-work protections for hardworking Kentuckians. Without them, this day doesn’t happen,” Waters said.

The Legislature today also repealed prevailing-wage mandates on public projects and enacted paycheck protection for workers, allowing workers to choose whether to have union dues withheld from their paychecks. Currently workers must choose to opt out of having an employer withhold their dues. Legislative pension transparency also became a reality today.

“Right-to-work is good for Kentucky and good for America,” Waters said. “Incomes are up and opportunities abound in right-to-work states; but most importantly, this policy defends individual liberties of hardworking Kentuckians by giving them the right to decide how to spend their own hard-earned money.”

HB 1 was undergirded by the fact that many Kentucky counties which have passed local right-to-work ordinances during the past couple of years.

Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon says the county – the nation’s first to pass a right-to-work ordinance – has attracted more than $1 billion capital investment since passing its local ordinance in December 2014.

“With that kind of growth in one Kentucky county, just imagine what could happen across this entire commonwealth with free-market policies.” Waters said. “We’ve got counties and entire regions throughout the Bluegrass State facing Depression-like economic conditions, but it’s a new day in my old Kentucky home.”

For more information, please contact Jim Waters at, 859.444.5630 ext. 102 (office) or 270.320.4376 (cell).

Bluegrass Beacon: Joy to Kentucky counties! The courts rightly rule

BluegrassBeaconLogoChristmas arrived early in the Bluegrass State this year as courts in different legal spheres rendered welcomed decisions.

First, the Kentucky Supreme Court by a 6-1 vote struck down Louisville’s minimum-wage ordinance passed in 2014 forcing all metro-area employers to pay workers at least $9 an hour by July 2017 – $1.75 higher than the statewide minimum wage. The rate already had risen to $8.25 this past summer.

The Supreme Court’s decision also overturns Lexington’s Urban County Council’s move last year to up the city’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by July 1, 2018, in incremental steps, beginning with the first hike to $8.20 this past summer.

While employers in these cities no longer must pay the higher rates, most will likely continue doing so rather than reduce workers’ pay.

While forcing continually higher minimum wages on local business owners certainly would help existing employees with a bit of a higher wage, a very real but unknown cost exists in the number of young people, especially college students – aplenty in especially Louisville and Lexington – who would not be able to find critically needed jobs next summer as employers wouldn’t be able to afford to pay workers more than they contribute.

Besides, minimum-wage policies aren’t for supporting families. They provide bridges for people needing temporary help and ladders for workers seeking to get feet in doors.

Kudos to the Kentucky Supreme Court for protecting these bridges and ladders.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals also handed Kentucky another recent legal victory, reversing Obama appointee and Louisville federal District Court Judge David Hale’s ruling that national labor law prevents counties from passing their own right-to-work ordinances.

A dozen Kentucky counties have passed such laws, which protect workers from being fired for choosing not to join a union or pay dues.

The appeals court sprinkled some glitter on this package’s pretty red bow by chastising Hale for the tortured opinion he released – after forcing all parties to wait six long months – in which he displayed an amazing degree of judicial amateurishness by claiming it was “not a logical reading” of the law for counties to assume they could pass such ordinances.

“Yet, it absolutely is a logical reading,” the higher – and legally sturdier – court said.

It certainly is a “logical reading” by counties of the Kentucky General Assembly’s County Home Rule Statute, which delegates to local governments the authority to legislate in ways that “promote economic development” and to “regulate commerce” by passing ordinances that don’t conflict with existing state laws.

Still, some think the two rulings are contradictory.

“So counties can vote in ‘Right to Work’ (for less) legislation, but cannot vote in minimum wage laws that are higher than the state level,” Susan Decker Davis of Lexington wrote on her Facebook page in response to the Lexington Herald-Leader’s coverage of the appeals court’s decision. “What’s wrong with this picture?’

Nothing, actually – other than Davis’s assertion that it’s right to work “for less.” Plenty of data show right-to-work policies are beneficial to workers and their companies.

However, there’s nothing contradictory in these court rulings.

Per Louisville attorney Brent Yessin of Protect My Check– part of an effective coalition that’s brought local right-to-work to Kentucky and is involved in taking it to communities in other non-right-to-work states – local governments cannot override the commonwealth’s existing minimum-wage law but can ratify their own right-to-work laws because the state has not acted on that specific issue.

“The state could have passed a right-to-work law but chose not to, and it could have passed a law saying unionized employees had to pay dues,” Yessin explained. “It chose to do neither, instead delegating that and other powers to counties.”

Santa now has given permission to all Kentucky counties to open their right-to-work packages and begin enjoying the increased employment opportunities and tax base such a gift provides.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute; Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

Bluegrass Beacon — Double election whammy: Right-to-work war, TPP tobacco carve-out

BluegrassBeaconLogoTwo policies impacted by state ballot initiatives and the presidential election itself that could also directly affect Kentuckians involve tobacco and right-to-work.

The Bluegrass State has plenty of one but none of the other.

Kentucky stood still while several states, including neighboring Indiana and West Virginia, moved forward with right-to-work policies, which protect employees from being forced to pay union dues in order to keep their jobs.

Supporters in Virginia, another neighboring state, seek on the Nov. 8 ballot to protect their longtime right-to-work law from future political whims by imbedding the policy into the state’s Constitution.

Hillary Clinton, who believes in the “right to choose,” the “right to affordable health care” and the “right to a debt free college education” not only opposes the “right to work” but has declared war on it, promising an attempt to take it away from nearly half of all Americans who enjoy its protections.

Conventional political wisdom holds that Kentucky House Democratic leaders provide the major obstacle to making Kentucky the 27th right-to-work state.

However, even if the GOP takes control of the state House in the upcoming election, some Republican representatives in heavily unionized districts won’t support the labor-freedom policy.

But that doesn’t kill its momentum, which has been maintained locally with several counties passing their own right-to-work ordinances.

As legal courts decide whether local governments can take such action, the fact that fiscal courts in 12 counties representing more than 600,000 Kentuckians have already endorsed right-to-work freedoms places opponents on the defensive.

If the GOP takes control of the statehouse, Democratic lawmakers from right-to-work counties, including Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, will no longer be beholden to Speaker Greg Stumbo’s anti-reform agenda, but will — I predict — be eager to beef up their conservative credentials both in Frankfort and back home in their districts.

Stone’s district includes Simpson County, which borders right-to-work Tennessee and was the second county to pass a right-to-work ordinance and part of Warren – the first county to pass an ordinance.

Wouldn’t it be the irony of ironies if the GOP taking control of the South’s only remaining Democratically controlled statehouse results in common-sense Democrats putting right-to-work across the goal line?

Not even in Kentucky’s wild-and-wooly political history have many stranger things happened.

What’s never happened in the world of free-trade deals is singling out a specific commodity for punishment.

Until now.

The Obama administration treats tobacco like a hostile witness in the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement by shutting the industry out of protections provided by the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism.

Carving tobacco out of the ISDS would prevent companies from seeking legal due-process relief when foreign governments take property without compensation or seize assets in the name of “public health.”

Unfortunately, TPP’s strong parts – including 18,000 tax cuts on American exports and $15 billion worth of tariff cuts – could also become victims of Obama’s crusade, which does nothing to protect public health yet appeases half-a-pack of anti-tobacco activists.

While both Clinton and GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump would likely – and rightly – send the trade agreement back to the drawing board, Obama may try to push the carve-out during the post-election lame duck congressional session.

This could especially be harmful to Kentucky farmers, who grow more than 87,000 acres of tobacco annually and stand to benefit greatly from additional trade doors opened by the TPP.

“For free trade to work, there simply cannot be discrimination that denies investors due process protections based solely on the political ideology of one country, or the unpopularity of a product,” Americans for Tax Reform’s Alexander Hendrie writes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has rightly opposed the carve-out during the campaign.

If he can succeed in holding the line during the lame-duck session, he will protect his commonwealth and country from an approach that does nothing to protect public health but a lot to hurt American jobs, farmers and ideals.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute; Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at


Bluegrass Institute statement on today’s ruling by U.S. District Court Judge David Hale prohibiting county right-to-work ordinances: 


The following statement was issued by Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters following U.S. District Court Judge David Hale’s ruling prohibiting county right-to-work ordinances:

Judge Hale’s ruling that federal law prevents Kentucky counties from implementing their own right-to-work ordinances not only pushes aside the will of the people as expressed through their Legislature, it completely negates the intention of this nation’s founders in establishing a Constitution that empowers sovereign states and their citizens.

The ruling completely disregards at least two United States Supreme Court rulings that uphold county ordinances as state law. But perhaps even more disconcerting is the fact that Hale either disregarded or perhaps doesn’t even understand our system of federalism.

Rather than recognizing that the United States Constitution’s Tenth Amendment clearly establishes that the federal government’s power is granted by the states, Hale’s ruling indicates a belief that the commonwealth of Kentucky and its people must be content with tiny morsels of decision-making authority tossed our way by an all-powerful federal government.

Opinions issued by Kentucky’s greatest legal minds — including retired Kentucky Supreme Court justices Joseph Lambert and Will Graves as well as Warren County Attorney Amy Milliken and Hardin County Attorney Jenny Oldham — clearly hold that counties, as political subdivisions of the commonwealth — have the statutory authority to pass economic-development legislation like right-to-work ordinances.

Despite this legally thin ruling — Hale’s first major civil decision since arriving on the federal bench as an Obama appointee — the work of the Bluegrass Institute in leading an effort resulting in several counties passing their own local right-to-work ordinances covering 600,000 people clearly shows that Kentuckians from Boone County in Northern Kentucky to Simpson County along the commonwealth’s southernmost border believe in the economic opportunity and individual liberty offered by right-to-work policies. We’ve already had a referendum of sorts as 113 of the 118 votes cast by locally elected fiscal court magistrates in an overwhelmingly bipartisan manner have said “yes” to right-to-work.

The Kentucky General Assembly could make sure the wishes of an overwhelming majority of Kentuckians — as represented by these local officials — are honored by passing right-to-work in Frankfort during the 2016 session of the Kentucky General Assembly. Doing so would get the future of right-to-work in our state out of the courthouse and back to the statehouse where it belongs.

For more information or comment, contact Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters @(270) 320-4376



Right-to-work courage in the Mountain State could add momentum to Bluegrass State’s effort

Right-to-Work logoNeighboring West Virginia could, for all intents and purposes, become America’s 26th right-to-work state before the week is over.

The Workplace Freedom Act, which passed the state’s Senate by an 18-16 vote on Jan. 21, is scheduled on the House of Delegates’ calendar for a third reading tomorrow.

All of this comes on the heels of a 55-44 vote in the Mountain State’s House last week to repeal the state’s prevailing-wage mandates, which have been driving up the cost of state-funded construction projects for one year longer – 81 years, to be exact – than anti-labor freedom forces have controlled the House. (Does this sound familiar, Kentucky?)

That bill now goes to the Senate.

Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s expected vetoes of these bills won’t matter. The GOP has the votes to overturn them and they are expected to hang together to do so. (Does the need for this also sound familiar, Kentucky?)

In an email note yesterday to West Virginia delegates, Bluegrass Institute President Jim Waters testified to the impact that right-to-work has had on the economic growth and future prospects of Warren County, which in December 2014 became the nation’s first county to pass a local right-to-work ordinance. He wrote:

Please consider what Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon told the Bluegrass Institute’s annual President’s Dinner & Liberty Awards attendees about what’s happened since his fiscal court passed the right-to-work ordinance barely 13 months ago:

The county “now being considered for 89 new expansion or relocation projects, which represents nearly 10,000 new jobs and more than $1 billion in new investment,” but that, since passage of the local right-to-work ordinance, “the county has attracted more than $900 million in new capital investment just during the past calendar year – which represents the last 10 years combined for Warren County.”

If that kind of response can happen in one single Kentucky county, what do you think could happen in a state like West Virginia, where the Obama administration’s anti-coal policies have brought devastating economic consequences? Couldn’t your constituents use some new job opportunities in areas where they would be particularly suited such as in the manufacturing sector?

You have the opportunity to shake your collective fists at this failed administration which cares nothing about your people and future and do what the founders of this Republic and of our states intended: Tell the big-government, anti-freedom forces that would defend the status quo and hold back your people to “Pound Sand.”

Waters also noted the impact that having yet another of Kentucky’s neighboring states pass right-to-work could have on supporters’ efforts to bring such policy to our commonwealth:

Your courage in bringing right-to-work to your state will exert tremendous pressure beyond just your universe. It will give us added momentum here in Kentucky and to those right-to-work supporters in Ohio to do the right thing in those states, not to speak of the added competitive advantage that you will give yourself and your people.

I would remind that right-to-work isn’t only the right thing in terms of economic growth, but it’s even more important that you protect the individual – and constitutional – freedoms of the citizens as I’m assuming you placed your hand on a Bible and swore to do.

Think about it, we’ve had 25 states pass right-to-work without a single successful union challenge that resulted in stopping a statewide effort. Here in Kentucky, we’re so convinced that right-to-work is needed that we’ve been willing to risk a court challenge to pass these local ordinances. I would reiterate: You don’t even have to worry about that – as unions absolutely have no chance of stopping a statewide policy that’s clearly is allowed by federal labor law and successfully enacted by 25 other states.










Thursday: Bluegrass Institute President Jim Waters speaks on “Right-to-Work Mythbusters” in Northern Kentucky

NKyTeaPartyBluegrass Institute President Jim Waters will speak Thursday @ 7 pm on “Right-to-Work Mythbusters” to a joint meeting of the Northern Kentucky Tea Party at the Florence Holiday Inn, 7905 Freedom Way, Florence, KY 41042.

The public is welcome to attend. There is no charge. There will be a question-and-answer session following President Waters’ presentation.

Waters recently in his weekly statewide Bluegrass Beacon column addressed claims by labor-union leaders that implementing a right-to-work policy would be a step backward for Kentucky’s workers and its economy:

Another indication the sky’s not falling is the fact that, as reported by the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy, there’s been a 66-percent drop in the number of Michiganders who are jobless since their state’s unemployment rate dropped from its whopping 14.9 percent in June 2009 to 5 percent this October.

If your group would like to hear about public-policy issues confronting Kentucky, such as those involving education, public pensions or right-to-work, please call (270) 320-4376 or email us at

News Release: Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon receives Bluegrass Institute Liberty Award for right-to-work leadership

For Immediate Release: Monday, Dec. 14, 2015  BIPPS Logo_pick

Contact: Jim Waters @ 270.320.4376

(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) – Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon was recently presented with a 2015 Bluegrass Institute Liberty Award for his leadership in bringing right-to-work to Kentucky.

“While much of our attention has been focused on Frankfort and Washington, the success of the local right-to-work campaign during the past year reminds us that it’s government closest to the people that can make the biggest difference in their lives,” said Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters in prepared remarks for the Bluegrass Institute’s annual Liberty Awards ceremony at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. “No one has demonstrated more political courage and competency on the right-to-work issue than Judge Buchanon, whose efforts will have a huge impact in Warren County and southcentral Kentucky for generations to come.”

Buchanon, who led the Warren County Fiscal Court in passing America’s first local right-to-work ordinance on Dec. 19, 2014, noted in receiving the award that the county has attracted more than $900 million in new capital investment just during the past calendar year – “which represents the last 10 years combined for Warren County.”

He also reported that the county is now being considered for 89 new expansion or relocation projects, which represent nearly 10,000 new jobs and more than $1 billion in new investment.

“Those 89 projects that have been brought to us mostly by site selectors saying ‘We’re bringing it to you because you’re right-to-work,’” Buchanon said in accepting the award. “And those are huge payrolls that turn over in our community – new money coming into our community that makes life better for my Sunday School teacher and her children, and that’s important for us.”

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester (legal reform), Pastor Jerry L. Stephenson (education reform) and Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, (regulatory reform) also received awards at this year’s ceremony.

Bluegrass Institute Liberty Awards are granted to policymakers without consideration to political parties who advance specific free-market policies that will improve the lives of Kentuckians.

“Our hope is to advance free-market policies by recognizing the efforts of individual policymakers who demonstrate the courage and leadership needed to move the needle in advancing solutions to Kentucky’s greatest challenges,” Waters said. “Judge Buchanon’s willingness to share his knowledge and experience with other county leaders has resulted in 12 counties fully passing right-to-work ordinances and 80 counties requesting a copy of the ordinance passed by Warren County.”

Past award winners include former state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown; House Minority Whip Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green; Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville; and Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner.

Buchanon praised the Bluegrass Institute’s efforts to educate state and local policymakers on what right-to-work is, and how it works.

“Jim was going around and educating the communities before they brought it up in their fiscal court; he was telling them what right-to-work does,” Buchanon said. “It does not say that unions can’t operate there. It just says workers have the right to choose to not be in a union or to be in a union, to pay union dues or not pay union dues; and in most states, where they’ve passed it, union membership goes up. So it doesn’t hurt anyone.”

You can hear Buchanon’s comments here. 

For more information, please contact Jim Waters at 270-782-2140 or

Bluegrass Beacon — Right-to-work: ‘Morning again’ or the sky is falling?

BluegrassBeaconLogoRight-to-work policies allow workers at privately owned companies the freedom to forgo paying union dues if they don’t agree with how their hard-earned money is being spent.

Giving Bluegrass State workers this leverage likely would result in more dues monies devoted to supporting local workers and less on extremist politicians a long way from Kentucky and programs that clash with the views and values of many Kentuckians – union and non-union alike.

According to federal Department of Labor filings, the UAW Local 2164 at the General Motors Corvette Plant in Bowling Green spent just 2 percent of its $560,000 budget on representation of its local workers in 2013.

And they’re not alone in spending very little of their members’ dues monies on contract negotiations or handling grievances while forking over a lot of cash for big-government political and social causes.

Boilermakers Local 107 in Brookfield, Wisconsin, spent just 5 percent of its $2 million budget in 2013 on representational activities. Machinists Lodge 2515 in Alamogordo, New Mexico, disbursed 23 percent of its $645,000 budget on representational activities – nearly all of which constituted payments to its officers.

Where’s the money going?

According to, the AFL-CIO in 2014 contributed more than $8 million nationally to political candidates and spent $5 million championing particular causes like the controversial pro-abortion Planned Parenthood organization.

Such spending habits make sense considering AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka’s naked admission that he got into the labor movement because he “saw it as a vehicle to do massive social change.”

But what if some union members’ views and values are different from Trumka’s? Should they still be forced to fund those efforts?

Or, what if they think dues monies should actually be used for representing workers rather than “social change?” Should they still be forced to pay dues?

Local 2164 president Eldon Renaud disingenuously berated Warren County Fiscal Court members who supported a right-to-work ordinance passed in December, accusing them of not standing up for a local company even as his union spends only 2 percent of dues monies representing its workers while sending the rest to Washington and other far-away places to fund political candidates and causes many of Renaud’s own members likely don’t support.

“If you can’t support the organization that’s supporting you, it’s gonna fall apart,” Renaud demagogued during Warren County’s right-to-work debate.

Not only has nothing fallen apart in any of the 25 states that have right-to-work policies – except, perhaps, some of the control previously held by labor-union big shots – but many union leaders actually are more responsive to members because they now must work to retain their involvement and dues payments.

Perhaps that’s why union membership is growing, even in right-to-work states. Workers now feel they have a real say in how dues monies are spent and also see their union representatives more than once every three years at contract-renegotiation time.

Another indication the sky’s not falling is the fact that, as reported by the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy, there’s been a 66-percent drop in the number of Michiganders who are jobless since their state’s unemployment rate dropped from its whopping 14.9 percent in June 2009 to 5 percent this October.

Vincent Vernuccio, the Mackinac Center’s director of labor policy, points to Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers showing that not only did the state’s employment levels grow by 141,900 between March 2013 and December 2014, but average wages in the private sector rose by 3.2 percent.

“Michigan has seen the largest drop in unemployment in the nation – job growth is up, wages are up, property values are up and unemployment is down,” Vernuccio said. “It’s morning again in Michigan – and worker freedom played a big part of that.”

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

Guest op-ed: Stumbo stumbles on right-to-work


Dr. Cameron Schaeffer

Right-to-Work logoNo child is taught to spend more than he earns, or is encouraged to accumulate debt. Yet we have no shortage of spenders and borrowers eager to give economic advice.

In a recent op-ed, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, suggests that workers in right-to-work states who enjoy union representation without paying dues are freeloaders.

When a Democrat complains about freeloaders, it’s time to put down the coffee.

Stumbo says that right-to-work hurts unions. Well, that depends.

If 5 percent of a right-to-work state’s workforce is union and if that state enjoys significant economic growth through good economic policy, more union jobs will be created than in a 10 percent union state with bad economic policy and little economic growth. Ten percent of nothing is still nothing, even in Frankfort.

A good leader imagines possibilities and acts.

How many Kentucky businesses have decided not to expand because of their union labor costs? How many companies considering expansion or relocation ignore Kentucky because it’s a union shop?

Stumbo says employment numbers are improving, but he cannot attribute that improvement to Kentucky’s union status. Arguing that Washington’s debt binge is kicking in would be more plausible.

The truth is that economic growth is maximized by pro-growth economic policies, including right-to-work. The more something costs, the less it’s traded – including labor.

Any artifice that raises the price of labor – whether it’s a minimum wage or a prevailing (union) wage – will decrease jobs. Just ask the newly unemployed in Seattle and San Francisco, where minimum wages were recently raised to $15 per hour. Or ask the unemployed Kentuckian who cannot negotiate his own price.

Stumbo gushes that Georgetown’s Toyota remains non-union; the United Auto Workers are less enthused.

If it were up to the UAW, not only would Toyota be union, it would have been converted long ago and without a secret ballot. The tough thing about a secret ballot is that it’s impossible to figure out whose door to knock on in the middle of the night.

Right-to-work is not just an economic issue.

Imagine a Tennessee businesswoman who employs people she considers her extended family. She may not want to expand into Kentucky where her employees could be forced to bankroll suited men who used to get dirty and organizations with which they politically disagree. Perhaps she values her employees’ freedom of conscience and choice, as well as her own freedom of contract.

Stumbo does not mention that most union political money goes to Democrats, or that unions have a long history of beating down competition from unskilled workers – particularly poor black workers.

Black unemployment once mirrored white unemployment; however, during the Great Depression, unions helped pass prevailing-wage laws like the Davis-Bacon Act, which sacrifices poor workers willing to sell their labor at a lower price.

Since the New Deal, the nation’s poor have been beneficiaries of government largesse, and they have understandably shifted their political support to their benefactors.

President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty. It’s difficult to thresh out compassion from his cynical calculation to grow, solidify and entrench the poor’s support of Democrats.

Republicans freed black Americans, argued for full citizenship for decades and eventually provided the majority of the votes for the Civil Rights Act.

Fishing for votes, big-government Democrats entangled blacks in safety nets – a different type of bondage; $20 trillion dollars buys a lot of political support, and a lot of human misery.

The payoff has been particularly big for Democrats in Baltimore; their decades-old political success was recently illuminated by bonfires.

When something is wrong, it’s time to check one’s premises.

Where they have been ruled by Democrats for decades, the poor should check their premises. After seeing the success of right-to-work states, Kentuckians should check theirs, too.

Dr. Cameron S. Schaeffer is a pediatric urologist who practices in Lexington and Louisville.