On November 18, 2016, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that had invalidated a county right-to-work ordinance. The Hardin County ordinance, like many others enacted in Kentucky, prohibits employers from requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment.
The lower court had ruled that the ordinance was preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which broadly preempts right-to-work laws except for those specifically authorized in Section 14(b) of the Act. The lower court had held that Section 14(b), which allows states to enact right-to-work laws, was not intended to include the local laws of political subdivisions. The 6th Circuit disagreed, holding that because Congress in Section 14(b) “expressly excepted a particular type of state law from preemption, it can hardly be deemed to have intended to nonetheless preempt such laws of the state’s political subdivisions absent a clear statement to that effect.” In other words, to overcome the traditional rights of states to delegate authority to their political subdivisions, the federal law must state a clear purpose to preempt local authority. Otherwise, a local right-to-work ordinance is “state law” under the NLRA and is not preempted. The 6th Circuit did, however, agree with the lower court that the Hardin County ordinance’s prohibitions of hiring-hall agreements (clearing prospective employees through a labor organization) and dues-checkoff provisions (deductions of union charges from compensation unless the employee has authorized the deductions in writing) are not included in the Section 14(b) exception, and are therefore preempted by the NLRA.
Both federal and state interpretations of the NLRA indicate cities, like counties, are considered “political subdivisions.” In light of the 6th Circuit ruling, local governments can now legally enact right-to-work ordinances that comply with Section 14(b) of the NLRA.
For more information, contact the KLC Member Legal Services Department.