Business experts in Kentucky reflect on right to work while lawyers get ready for battle

February 22, 2017 | by Karin Sweigart

In light of their newly passed right to work law, Kentucky public radio checked in with some experts to see how business opportunities might change in the Bluegrass state.

Mike Mullis, site selection consultant for global corporations, said that companies, particularly those focused on manufacturing, "perk up when they hear the words right to work." And while right to work doesn't guarantee more projects, it does guarantee more opportunity. 

University of Kentucky economist Kenneth Troske stated right to work laws can help attract businesses and sends a message to businesses that the state is trying to be open, friendly, and flexible to help businesses that want to locate there. Troske also noted that research shows when plants become unionized, you see a decline in their productivity. 

Teamster general secretary-treasurer Ken Hall painted a different picture, saying that eight of the ten states with the lowest per capita income are right to work states, and the majority of the top fifteen states with the highest rate of poverty are right to work states. But research just released from the National Institute of Labor Relations suggests another possible driving force behind some of these numbers - cost of living. The fourteen least affordable states are all states that can force non union members to pay fair share fees as a condition of employment. Non right to work states are 25.6% more expensive to live in than right to work states. Additionally, the nine lowest cost states and a total of fifteen of the seventeen lowest cost states were right to work last year.
Six states have passed right to work in the last five years. Many have been embroiled in protracted legal battles leaving the laws in legal limbo and dissenting workers in the lurch. Supporters in the newest right to work states are already preparing for more legal challenges and the potential for confusion and misinformation in the workplace. With uncertainty still lingering, economic numbers probably won't be able to give an accurate picture for several years.