Democrats in Virginia are mounting an aggressive campaign to roll back right to work laws that have been on the books for more than 70 years, but a leading right to work activist says doing so would damage Virginia’s economy, limit personal freedom, and pit rank and file employees against organized labor.
“First of all, it’s an issue of freedom: individual freedom and choice and liberty in the workplace, Nothing in Virginia’s right to work law stops you from joining a union if you want to or giving your entire paycheck to a union official if you choose to do that,” said National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation President Mark Mix
Freshman Democratic Del. Lee Carter is leading the effort in the Virginia House of Delegates. Carter is an avowed socialist who was part of a blue wave that nearly regained the majority for Democrats in 2017.
During his campaign, Carter expressed his animosity toward the right to work movement by filming the shredding of a questionnaire he received from Mix’s group. Mix says he credits Carter for his consistency,
“He’s made good on his promise. You have to give the guy credit. He told people that he would introduce a repeal of Virginia’s right to work law that’s been in effect since 1947 and simply says no worker in Virginia can be forced to pay union dues or fees to get or keep a job,” said Mix.
Just two years ago, Virginia voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have written the right to work into the commonwealth’s constitution, but Mix says there hasn’t been a serious effort to repeal the right to work law since 1991.
“It appears with the margins the way they are and the climate changing the way it has that this delegate is going to make an aggressive effort to try to force Virginians to pay union dues to work,” said Mix.
The Carter legislation specifically calls for the creation of “agency shops” as opposed to “union shops.” A union shop requires all workers to join a union but a 1960’s court ruling declared it illegal to force anyone to join a private organization. The agency shop does not require membership but it does require everyone to pay union dues and fees.
Mix says it’s a distinction without much of a difference.
“The unions will say, ‘No worker is forced to join a union or will ever be forced to join a union, but you’ll be forced to pay up to 100 percent of dues to keep your job, which is basically a union shop.
“Union officials had to create semantic differences so they could say no one is forced to join a union. You’re just forced to pay dues to work, and that’s really what this bill’s about,” said Mix
The argument from organized labor is very different. Their officials contend that all employees benefit from the collective bargaining agreements they negotiate and anyone who benefits from those negotiations ought to pay dues to the union that helped them get better pay or benefits.
Mix says labor leaders like to pitch the battle as workers vs. management but he says compulsory dues really create a different conflict.
“Basically what we’re talking about here is a fight between union officials and the rank and file workers they claim to want to represent. Ultimately, that’s what this is all about. They’re trying to force those workers who they “speak for” to pay for the privilege of working,” said Mix.
Republicans control both chambers of the Virginia legislature but both majorities are very narrow. The GOP holds a 51-49 edge in the House of Delegates and a 21-19 edge in the state senate. All 140 of those seats are up for election this year in Virginia. Republican leaders insist they will vigorously oppose the Carter legislation.
Listen to the whole podcast to hear Mix lay out more of the debate and discuss why right to work laws make a big difference in the economy of the states where they exist.