Kentucky ban on collecting some union dues by payroll deduction struck down

Published 1:32 pm Wednesday, September 13, 2023

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By Liam Niemeyer

Kentucky Lantern

A Kentucky judge has struck down a new state law that prevents some public-sector unions from collecting dues through payroll deductions.

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Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate in an order on Aug. 30 stated that Senate Bill 7 creates “favoritism” for some public sector labor unions exempted from the law — specifically unions representing jail and prison staff, police and firefighters — and violates the Kentucky Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

“The Court wholly accepts that the Commonwealth has a compelling interest in avoiding the appearance that public resources are being used to support partisan political activity, but SB 7 does not fit this goal as it has instead allowed the General Assembly to arbitrarily select which labor organizations get to participate in the ‘optic’ of using public resources to support partisan political activity,” Wingate said in his order.

SB 7, sponsored by Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, bars public employers from assisting with “any labor organization, person, or other legal entity with the collection of dues, fees, assessments, or other charges” or the collection of personal information for labor unions.

The order came in a lawsuit brought by the Kentucky Education Association, the state’s largest union representing teachers. KEA Executive Director Mary Ruble had previously said the law prevented approximately 90% of the union’s thousands of members from paying union dues through payroll deductions.

The KEA in a statement agreed with Wingate’s ruling and stated it would rely on it to reinstate payroll deductions, but that it hadn’t yet done so. The association stated it has successfully moved almost 80% of its membership to alternative payment methods.

“Taking payroll deduction for labor organization dues might seem like a small thing, but when members of the largest educator organization in the state lose access to payroll deduction while other more favored public employees do not, it certainly makes clear that legislators don’t respect educators or the choices they make,” the KEA stated.

Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron is appealing the ruling. Cameron has backed SB 7 in the lawsuit, arguing the KEA can recover any lost dues through other payment means. Mills, the bill’s sponsor, is Cameron’s running mate in the race for governor.

The GOP-dominated Kentucky legislature passed SB 7 earlier this year over the veto of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. Republican lawmakers exempted unions for law enforcement, firefighters and jail and prison staff from the law arguing that the “hazardous nature” of their work precluded them from the law.

A Jefferson County judge in July had temporarily blocked the law in a separate lawsuit brought by local unions in Louisville.

The case was originally assigned to Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd but he recused himself at Cameron’s request, based on some contributors to Shepherd’s re-election campaign.