It’s all but official; West Virginia is overwhelmingly likely to become the nation’s 26th state to expand both worker freedom and economic opportunity by adopting a Right-to-Work law. If adopted, the law (the Workplace Freedom Act in West Virginia) would make it illegal to require employees to join a union as a condition of employment. Ending this scheme of forced unionism exemplifies the states’ ability to pro-actively solve problems and increase the economic potential of their state.
One all too common misconception about Right-to-Work is that somehow these laws are anti-union or make unions illegal. Quite simply, this is not the case. In Right-to-Work states, unionization is still permitted, but labor unions are no longer able to force membership as a condition of employment. If individuals find union membership advantageous or would otherwise like to join or support a labor union, they are, of course, free to do so—but soon, West Virginians may also become free not to do so if they wish.
In a September, 2015 interview regarding discussions between the United Auto Workers (UAW) labor union and Detroit Auto Manufacturers, Jimmy Settles, Vice-President of the UAW’s Ford department, discussed the effect of Right-to-Work for labor unions. “I represent workers in other states with right-to-work laws,” Settles said. “We do very well with our retention rates – high 90s percentage. The law gives us an opportunity to get closer to our membership. It opens up a dialogue on why we should be in the union.” Facts like these render outlandish claims about supposed “union busting” nothing more than hollow pronouncements from organizations that have gotten used to being able to force membership on those that would prefer not to join.
In West Virginia, the Workplace Freedom Act was first proposed and passed by the Senate. Late last week, after a lengthy floor debate, the House of Delegates passed an amended version last Thursday, February 4. The Senate quickly concurred with minor amendments from the House of Delegates on Friday, February 5. The bill, having passed both houses of the legislature, now goes to the Governor for either his signature or veto. While the legislature is in session, the Governor has five days to either sign or veto the bill—any longer than five days and the bill is automatically adopted. Governor Tomblin is expected to veto the bill but, since this is neither a budget nor supplemental appropriations bill, the legislature needs only a simple majority in both houses to override the expected veto.
Ben Wilterdink is the director of Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development policy at the American Legislative Exchange Council.