Judge's gavelA federal judge has struck down a Hardin County law that prohibits labor agreements that require employees to pay union dues — but the county plans to appeal the decision “in a matter of days.”

U.S. District Court Judge David J. Hale of Louisville said Wednesday that the National labor Relations Act allows for so-called right-to-work laws to be passed by states — but not by towns, cities or counties.

The ruling represents a significant victory for Kentucky’s unions, which have seen 11 Kentucky counties adopt such laws since 2014.

Nine unions, including the AFL-CIO, had sued Hardin County, southwest of Jefferson County, in January 2015.

Right-to-work laws generally are being pushed by business interests, including the state and local chambers of commerce, which are calling for a statewide RTW law this year. While Republicans, including Gov. Matt Bevin, support such legislation, it is opposed by Democrats, who narrowly control the Kentucky House.

Proponents of such a law say it would increase Kentucky’s attractiveness for businesses, but opponents say it would lower wages. Academic research on both claims is inconclusive. Union officials also have said Republicans are pushing for such legislation because it weakens support for Democrats, who typically see more votes and financial contributions from union members than do Republicans.

Hardin County GovernmentThe AFL-CIO called Hale’s ruling “a win for all of Kentucky’s working families.”

The union said the ruling, among other things, means “the county cannot prevent companies and unions from requiring all workers who benefit from a union contract to pay a fair share of the expenses the union incurs on their behalf.”

A Hardin County official referred all questions to the county’s legal counsel and told IL Thursday afternoon that due to the pending litigation, no county officials would answer any questions.

John T. Lovett, an attorney with Louisville-based Frost Brown Todd, who represents the county in the case, told IL he would file a notice of appeal “in a matter of days.”

While Lovett said the judge did a fine job analyzing the case, the county disagrees with his conclusion and narrow interpretation of some U.S. Supreme Court cases.

“There is no doubt that states can pass (RTW) laws,” Lovett said.

The question is, he said, if a state gives that power to a county, can the county exercise that power?

Lovett said he believes Supreme Court rulings hold that counties should be able to adopt RTW laws because Congress has not specifically prohibited them from doing so.

The attorney said he believes it is likely the court will reach a decision on the appeal this calendar year.