The reason to remember in November

EDITOR'S NOTE: We urge every union member, every union family member and every friend of organized labor in Kentucky to read every word in this article. Brother Finn spells out exactly why you should vote as if your job and your union depend on it--because they do.

By BILL FINN

State director, Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council.

In 2017, the Republicans took control of the Kentucky House for the first time since 1921. They had held a majority in the Senate for going on two decades.

Over the years, there have been numerous filed bills that attacked organized labor and every blue-collar Kentuckian. None of those bills passed because the Democrats, who have been our allies, controlled the House. They were our backstop for every bad labor bill that had been filed.

We have about seven labor-friendly Republicans who have stood with us on our issues. But they aren't enough to stop the attacks by the Republican majority.

Those attacks succeeded with total Republican control of the General Assembly in the 2017 and 2018 sessions.

In 2017, there was a 30-day session and this year, the legislature convened for 60 Days. The Republican majority did more harm to us in those 90 days than has ever been done to us in all of Kentucky history.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin bragged, “The work that is being done right now in our House and the work that is being done in our Senate is just getting warmed up. Buckle up, because the next five years is going to be something to watch.”

This is a summary of the anti-labor bills the Senate and House Republican majorities passed in those awful 90 days:

  • HB-3 -- Repealed the prevailing wage law on public projects. The law to protect our local workforce and local contractors is gone. Now, out-of-state workers are taking our jobs on building projects our tax dollars help fund.  Signed by the governor
  • HB-1 -- Made Kentucky a right to work for less state. Our collective bargaining power and income is reduced dramatically. Signed by the governor
  • SB-6 – Paycheck deception. This bill makes it harder for unions to collect dues through payroll deduction. Signed by the governor
  • HB-2 -- Workers compensation cuts. This bill reduces benefits for injured workers. Among its many harmful provisions are sections that limit medical benefits and cap disability benefits. Signed by the governor
  • SB-78 -- Electricians bill - Gutted skilled trades licensing by dropping the experience requirement from 4 years to 2 years. Electricians that can’t pass the test are given a provisional license. This Bill passed 45-44 on the last day in the final 2 hours of this year's session. Signed by the governor 
  • HB-252 -- Unemployment Insurance cuts. The original version of the bill would have dropped the eligible weeks from 26 weeks to 16 and would have frozen the weekly benefit until the benefits in the 7 states that surround Kentucky were higher. Those two harmful provisions were later abandoned, and the bill passed.

At an interim committee meeting last month, the Bevin administration again discussed legislation to reduce the weekly benefit amount and to limit unemployment compensation to 14 weeks. It was mentioned that in some states the limit is 11-12 weeks. This should cause concern, especially if you work in the uncertain construction industry, where unemployment is expected. Unemployment Insurance is the lifeline that holds us over until the next job. A limit of 11 or 12 weeks will not enable you and your family to survive a downturn.

Other bad GOP-backed labor bills were filed but did not pass. They are expected to be re-filed. This is the is the short list:

  • HB-245 - HB-293 Two bills to remove or reduce asbestos liability for insurance companies. These bills limit injured worker benefits and eligibility periods.
  • HB-382 - A bill to remove the wage bond protection for workers in the construction industry.
  • SB-237 –This bill would remove mandatory break times and removes overtime requirements for about 31 occupations. It also includes numerous rollbacks of workers eligible for the minimum wage and O/T. In addition, this especially terrible bill would remove the minimum wage for anyone under 20 years old. 
  • SB-35 -- This bill would remove minimum wage requirement for seasonal and recreational workers. It would threaten summer-type jobs that teenagers and younger people need to buy a car or save for college.
  • HB-216 -- This bill removes transparency and open records requirements for identifying selection committees, bidding and awarding of state contracts and details of the procurement process. It keeps built-to-suit contracts and awards and selection in secret and behind closed doors.
  • HB-471 -- Prohibits Project Labor Agreements on public projects.

In 2017, the Republican majorities made RTW and PW repeal their first priorities. But the non-union workforce is also suffering under these new laws.

Recently, the Bevin administration proposed changes to the state apprenticeship standards. For the electrical trade, they proposed cutting the classroom training hours in half from 576 to 288 hours. No one in the industry claims this will result in qualified training. It will only increase the number of workers, regardless of the skill level. It's actions like these that get workers or members of the public hurt or even killed due to unqualified workers being passed off as being properly trained. Expect this lowering of standards to be mirrored for the other trades.

Kentucky’s building trades members were the first union members to be attacked when the Republicans took control. Our work opportunities and our earnings have been reduced with PW repeal. Our collective bargaining has been weakened with right to work for less.

Our injured and unemployed workers count on the lifelines of workers' comp and unemployment insurance to keep from losing their homes. That lifeline is fraying. The threatened weakening of training and licensing will return us to a time where unskilled workers put all citizens' lives in jeopardy.

The teachers, other state employees, including firefighters and police, went on the chopping block this year. Well documented is the Bevin administration's contempt for teachers and other public employees by cutting their pensions and for our public schools by cutting their funding,

The Republican tax bill passed in 2018 will cost most union retirees about $500 more a year in taxes. The state tax exemption of $41,000 was lowered to $31,000, thereby creating $10,000 of new taxable income at a 5 percent tax rate. The wealthier Kentuckians are the ones who received the big tax cut.

The previous tax deduction for vehicle mileage was removed, creating additional expenses for working people who must drive for their jobs.

Middle-class families will vote in November but won't realize their tax increases until April.

So, we have every reason to Remember in November and vote to elect our friends and defeat our enemies. Now is that time. Please vote for our endorsed candidates. Click here to see a list of them.