French and Hurt: Democrats are in labor's corner


AFT Local 1360

Union members who think Democrats don't always value organized labor should talk to Daniel Hurt and Susanna French, both members of the state party central committee.

The two western Kentuckians say unions are vital to Democratic success in the Bluegrass State. They welcome union participation in party activities at all levels. 

Hurt, from Grand Rivers, is an honorary delegate to the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council. "Unions stand up for the values we believe in,” said Hurt, who also chairs the Livingston County Democratic Executive Committee. “From Haymarket to Honeywell, unions have always been there for working people.”

French, who lives in Benton, chairs the Marshall County Democratic committee, whose members include Howard "Bubba" Dawes, directing business representative for International Association of Machinists District Lodge 154, headquartered in Calvert City.

“Union members are true Americans who stand up for our values,” added French. “They stand for families and for a living wage for all Americans.”

Anyway, Democrats are a lot more likely to back unions and union-supported issues than Republicans are.

In Frankfort, that disparity was especially clear last January in how lawmakers voted on HB 1, “right to work;” HB 3, prevailing wage repeal; and SB 6, a paycheck deception measure. Republicans wrote, sponsored, introduced and passed the legislation.

Only five of 64 GOP House members broke with their party and Gov. Matt Bevin to vote "no" on HB 1. Seven opposed HB 3 and a half-dozen rejected SB 6. Only one senator voted against all three bills. 

Every voting Democratic lawmaker opposed the legislation, except for one House member who supported HB 3. (Three House Democrats who were absent later recorded "no" votes; an absent Republican senator added his "yes" vote.)  

The tea party-tilting Bevin gleefully signed HB 1, HB 3 and SB 6. The archconservative Republican ran in 2015 on a platform with RTW and PW-repeal planks.

This year was the first time the GOP has controlled the governorship and both houses of the legislature. Heretofore, only a Democratic-majority House had saved organized labor from union-busting bills.

The Trump tsunami turned the House 64-36 Republican, while the GOP maintained its 27-11 Senate edge.

HB 1, HB 3 and SB 6 passed, rapid-fire, early in the session. “The vehemence and speed with which these bills were moved through the legislative process, including the unprecedented Saturday legislative session, demonstrated the intention of the new majority to exact retribution for their long inability to pass any of these harmful initiatives,” said a statement from Bill Londrigan, Kentucky State AFL-CIO president.

One of Londrigan and labor's best friends in Frankfort was Rep. J.R. Gray, who is retired in Benton. A devout Democrat, Gray, time and again as chair of the House Labor and Industry Committee, stopped cold RTW and other anti-union bills.

“History will tell you that the Democrats ramrodded every meaningful piece of legislation for the benefit of working people,” said Gray, who once headed District 154 and was Kentucky labor secretary after he left the House.

Gray is right about history, the subject I taught in a community college for two dozen years.

Unions have been a big part of the Democratic base since Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a Democratic-majority New Deal Congress gave workers the legal protection to organize and bargain collectively with their employers—and required employers to recognize unions when workers voted them in.

"If I went to work in a factory, the first thing I'd do would be to join a union," FDR said.

Most Democrats in Washington are still in labor’s corner. Check out the AFL-CIO’s online Legislative Voting Record, which rates House and Senate members on how often they vote the labor position on legislation.

The contrast is stark, nowhere more so than in Kentucky’s congressional delegation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, both Republicans, want a national RTW law. Republican President Donald Trump is pro-RTW.

Since he’s been in the Senate, McConnell has voted the union way just 12 percent of the time. Paul’s lifetime score is 14 percent.

Here’s how four of the five GOP House members from the Bluegrass State--all of them are pro-RTW--rate on union support over their careers: Brett Guthrie, 10 percent; Thomas Massie, 20; Hal Rogers, 20, and Andy Barr, 5.

The tallies only go through 2015, so freshman Rep. James Comer, also a Republican, is not rated. But when he unsuccessfully ran for governor against Bevin in the 2015 GOP primary, he, like Bevin, favored a "right to work" law and supported repeal of the prevailing wage.

John Yarmuth of Louisville, Kentucky’s lone Democrat on Capitol Hill, has scored 98 percent, lifetime.