For Immediate Release: Friday, September 1, 2017
(SAN ANTONIO) — Warren County Attorney Amy Milliken told attendees at the 25th anniversary celebration of the State Policy Network (SPN) on Thursday that bringing right-to-work first to her local community in 2014 and then to the entire commonwealth in January wasn’t about being against unions but rather creating more opportunities, especially for young Kentuckians just entering the job market.
“In Warren County, we have Western Kentucky University – the fastest-growing university in Kentucky; we have the Gatton Academy – the number one high school in the country – and that’s all great. But graduates from these schools were leaving our county to go to Tennessee or to Indiana or to wherever they could get better job opportunities,” Milliken told the gathering at “Blue State Strategies for Local Right-to-Work,” a forum to assist supporters in non-right-to-work states find a path to the labor-freedom policy in local communities.
“This was about: What can we do to improve Warren County?” Milliken said.
SPN is a nationwide network of state-based free market think tanks committed to economic prosperity, individual liberty and limited government.
Milliken praised the contribution of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, which was started in 2003 and is a 14-year member of SPN, as being critical to the efforts to bring right-to-work to Kentucky.
“I can’t say enough about the Bluegrass Institute and the work of Jim Waters and his organization in this effort; without them, right-to-work wouldn’t have happened,” she said.
Waters, who also participated in Thursday’s panel discussion, said the growth in investment in the county and now at the state level since right-to-work laws were passed is not a coincidence.
“The biggest problem in Warren County and the surrounding region now isn’t about creating new jobs but rather filling openings as southcentral Kentucky has become the fastest growing area in the commonwealth,” he said.
According to JobsEQ, there were 50,270 job openings in six different sectors – construction, healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing, professional services, transportation distribution and logistics – within a 50-mile radius of the 10-county area that forms southcentral Kentucky.
Milliken and Waters were joined on the panel by Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Maine, and Mailee Smith, staff attorney for the Illinois Policy Institute, also an SPN organization. The event was moderated by SPN senior policy adviser Trevor Bragdon.
“This truly was a ground-up, grassroots effort that combined our policy work with the legal efforts of Amy and national organizations like Protect My Check with the political efforts of local leaders like Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon, to impact not just our county and region but the entire commonwealth,” Waters said. “We worked together to find a path toward local right-to-work protections in our state; I believe such a path can be found in most states.”
Kentucky has seen a record $7 billion in new investment and the announcement of more than 6,000 new jobs since the legislature passed a statewide right-to-work law during the first week of January.
Thirteen counties passed local right-to-work ordinances before the statewide law passed.
Simpson County, which neighbors Warren County to the south and borders right-to-work Tennessee, became the second county to pass local right-to-work in the final weeks of 2014.
“Local economic development officials in Simpson County tell me they had $250 million in new investment and 800 new jobs announced just in 2016,” Waters said. “One longtime development veteran told me: ‘you can’t get a hit if you don’t get to the plate and we weren’t even getting to the plate with many companies – much less getting any hits.’”
Right-to-work laws still allow unions to organize and recruit members, but they cannot use the threat of unemployment to coerce workers to pay dues – even at companies with a union contract.
“My granddaddy was a strong Teamster and I, along with our (Fiscal) Court, support unions in our county,” Milliken said., “We, however, think that right-to-work makes unions better; it makes union leaders work for their members and it keeps their money in the local community.”
Attendees had donated more than $12,500 to the Hurricane Harvey relief effort as of Thursday evening.
For more information, please contact the Bluegrass Institute at 859.444.5630.