The basic principle behind Virginia’s decades-old right-to-work law is simple: No worker should be forced to join a union or pay union dues against his or her will as a condition of employment.
The Virginia Code is clear on exactly what the law entails: “No person shall be required by an employer to become or remain a member of any labor union or labor organization as a condition of employment or continuation of employment by such employer.”
At the same time, ”No person shall be required by an employer to abstain or refrain from membership in any labor union or labor organization as a condition of employment or continuation of employment.”
Right-to-work laws also protect employees who choose not to join a union from having compulsory union dues taken out of their paychecks without their permission—a right that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. In its 2007 Davenport v. Washington Education Association decision, the high court ruled that “unions have no constitutional entitlement to the fees of nonmember-employees.”
Yet Virginia’s right-to-work law, which gives individual workers the freedom to either join a union or not join as they see fit, is under assault by Democrats in the General Assembly who apparently don’t believe in that kind of choice.
Proponents of repeal often cite a dubious study by Oxfam that ranks Virginia as the “worst state to work in America,” partially based on the commonwealth’s right-to-work law. Anybody who lives and works in Virginia knows that’s ridiculous.
Virginia was ranked first on CNBC’s Best States for Business in 2019. Of the top 21 states on that list, 17 are right-to-work states. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wage costs in Virginia are the 10th highest in the country, so contrary to Oxfam’s claim, workers in the commonwealth are clearly sharing in the prosperity.
On Nov. 25, Gov. Ralph Northam reassured members of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Revenue Estimates that, “I can’t foresee Virginia taking actions [that would include] repeal of the right-to-work law.” Yet progressive members of his own party who campaigned on promises to repeal the law, including Del. Jennifer Carroll–Foy, D–Woodbridge, and Del.-elect Josh Cole, D–Fredericksburg, are not happy with the governor’s stance.
Neither are presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who both urged Northam to “end” the right-to-work law in Virginia.
Del. Lee Carter, D–Manassas, tweeted that, ”I’m gonna introduce it, and I’m gonna fight like hell to get it to the Governor’s desk. And if he vetoes it, he’ll be the one who has to own that.”
If the legislature tries to replace Virginia’s right-to-work law with compulsory unionism and forced payment of union dues, Northam would do well to use the veto pen. Barry DuVal, president and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that, “Virginia’s AAA bond rating and right-to-work law are key components to Virginia’s economic competitiveness. Any move to undermine these two important features would be perceived as a significant blow to the commonwealth’s standing as a desirable place to do business.”
Since 2012, five states—Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, West Virginia and Wisconsin—have also adopted right-to-work laws, bringing the national total to 27. Most of the states the commonwealth is competing with for economic development are also right-to-work states, so Virginia would lose a major competitive advantage by repealing its law.
You don’t help workers by discouraging businesses from moving to the commonwealth and creating more jobs.
A gubernatorial veto may not be what Democrats in the General Assembly were anticipating after 26 years in the minority, but Northam is right. When all of the commonwealth’s economic cylinders are firing, it’s not the time to start tinkering with the engine.