Unions sue to stop Kentucky's 'right-to-work' law

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By Steve Bittenbender

LOUISVILLE (Reuters) - Two labor groups filed a lawsuit in a Kentucky court on Thursday challenging the so-called right-to-work law the state legislature passed earlier this year.

The law, which allows workers the right to work in union-represented shops and receive union-negotiated benefits without paying dues to the representing body, violates the equal protection clause of the state constitution, said Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky AFL-CIO.

The union, as well as Louisville-based Teamsters Local 89, filed the lawsuit - which seeks class-action status - against the state and Governor Matt Bevin in Franklin Circuit Court in Frankfort. It is asking the court to bar enforcement of the law and declare it unconstitutional and invalid.

“We have a great opportunity to prevail and stop this unconstitutional overreach,” Londrigan said by telephone.

Londrigan added that courts in other states, such as West Virginia, have granted injunctions against similar laws for the same reason.

Kentucky state officials could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit.

In January, Republican lawmakers in Kentucky passed the right-to-work bill, making it the 27th U.S. state to do so. Republican Governor Matt Bevin signed it into law two days later.

The legislation was passed two months after Republicans won control of the state's General Assembly for the first time since 1921.

Supporters of the law say it will spur economic growth and attract new businesses to the state while opponents see it as an assault on organized labor and blue-collar workers that limit union revenues as well as erode wages, benefits and safety.

In the lawsuit, the unions argued the Kentucky legislature is barred from "arbitrarily interfering with the economic rights of entities without a rational basis." The new law is "irrational and arbitrary" and pretext for antiunion discrimination, according to the lawsuit.

Last month, Governor Bevin cited the new law as a factor in Braidy Industries choosing to build an aluminum mill expected to employ 500 people in Wurtland in northeastern Kentucky.

(Reporting by Steve Bittenbender, Editing by Ben Klayman and Cynthia Osterman)

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