Virginia May Repeal Right-to-Work Law

Source: Mackinac Center for Public Policy. (Click to enlarge.)

by Hans Bader

Twenty-seven states have “right-to-work” laws. These laws protect workers against being forced to join a union and against being forced to pay dues or fees to a union as a condition of employment. But right-to-work laws may soon be repealed — starting in Virginia, which passed one of the earliest right-to-work laws, in 1947.

The Democratic Party is expected to take control of the Virginia legislature this November, probably by a slim margin. Democratic candidates now overwhelmingly support repealing the state’s right-to-work law, according to a recent survey. This is a big change from the past, when not just Republicans, but also many Virginia Democrats, supported the law. Several Democratic presidential candidates have called for the federal government to ban state right-to-work laws nationwide.

Repealing Virginia’s law could have a major economic impact on the state. Studies have found that states with right-to-work laws have an advantage in job creation over other states. In fact, right-to-work states have double the job growth of non-right-to-work states.

Businesses are also more likely to create to transfer existing jobs to right-to-work states than to other states. To some major employers, right-to-work status matters a lot. Studies have found that half of all businesses won’t even look at non-right-to-work states when they plan on expanding or relocating across state lines.

When they become too powerful, unions can make unreasonable demands that drive away employers. When Amazon sought to expand into New York, where workers can be forced to pay union dues, it faced hostility and unreasonable demands from unions. Union officials sought to control who Amazon would hire and to force it to support costly projects backed by the unions. In response, Amazon terminated its plans to expand into New York.

By contrast, Amazon decided to expand in Virginia, which has long been a right-to-work state. It is expected to put at least 25,000 jobs into Virginia by 2030 — although that might change if Virginia’s business climate worsens.

The benefits of right-to-work laws in attracting jobs seem clear. They may also improve living standards. As Mark Mix noted in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, “there is a strong correlation between right to work and higher real personal income. In fact, the average right to work state’s cost of living-adjusted, after-tax income per household was roughly $4,500 higher than households in states that permit forced unionism.”

Of course, correlation doesn’t necessarily prove causation. States with right-to-work laws also tend to have lower tax burdens and less red tape for businesses. Those factors, not just right-to-work laws, help explain why the cost of living is lower in right-to-work states and why their income growth is higher.

Until recently, most Democrats in Virginia’s legislature didn’t seek to repeal the state’s right-to-work law. The ranking Democrat in the State Senate admitted in 2016 that “there has not been a problem” with the law.

But in 2019, that changed. In January, a self-described socialist, Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, filed a bill to repeal the state’s right-to-work law. Carter’s bill died a speedy death in the GOP-controlled legislature. But it soon became a key part of the Democratic legislative agenda.

In September, a more senior Democratic legislator, Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, vowed to repeal the law. “When Democrats flip the General Assembly this year,” he said, “at the very top of the progressive agenda” will be “to repeal the so-called ‘Right-to-Work’” law.

He also said it might be included as part of Governor Ralph Northam’s “racial equity” agenda. Hope claimed that the right-to-work law was “based on discrimination,” because it was passed “in 1947 during the tenure of Governor William Tuck, an avowed segregationist.”

But there is no reason to believe that the Virginia legislature had any racist motive for passing the right-to-work law. Northern states with no history of segregation passed the same right-to-work law Virginia did. Iowa and the Dakotas did so in the very same year, 1947.

The most important supporter of right-to-work laws was an outspoken opponent of racism. State right-to-work laws are specifically allowed by the 1947 federal Taft-Hartley Act. That law’s lead sponsor, Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, hated segregation. Taft was ahead of his time in opposing racist policies, such as the federal government’s internment of the Japanese-Americans.

Hans Bader, a former Competitive Enterprise Institute scholar, is an attorney living in Northern Virginia. This column first appeared in the Liberty Unyielding blog.

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9 responses to “Virginia May Repeal Right-to-Work Law”

  1. djrippert Avatar

    I think it odd that government should tell people who don’t want to join unions that they must join unions if employed by certain companies. I wonder if it’s even constitutional. Doesn’t freedom of association also convey a freedom not to associate?

    However, I must say that I find your citing of 1995 – 2015 as the timespan for analysis curious. Why those two endpoints? I would think 2007 – 2018 would be a better timespan, especially in Virginia. Certainly things have changed since the so-called Great Recession in Virginia. It seems to me that our historically above average growth rate has slipped to below average over the 2007 – 2019 period.

    Economically speaking, Virginia is a one trick pony. Federal money flows into NoVa and Hampton Roads, the money is shipped to Richmond for redistribution and, after the skim, our political elite in Richmond provide regional welfare across the state. The growth in jobs between 1995 and 2015 in Virginia was a lot more about post 9/11 federal spending increases than unionization law. In a similar vein, our lack of success since the Great Recession is more about reduced federal spending growth (outside of entitlements) than unionization law.

    How much will this really matter in Virginia?

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    “Right-to-work” is not just about paying union dues.

    It’s portrayed that way by supporters who ignore the other aspects of the laws that hinder and prevent many workers from organizing and advocating for their interests – which include apprenticeship and workplace training programs – as well as legal representation against wrongful actions by employers.

    And I’m not surprised that Conservatives are ginning up their FUD machine on the prospect that the Dems might become the majority in Virginia. Socialists, baby-killers, job-killing regulations, bad breath… and every horrible malady known to man will surely befall us!

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Uh, gee Larry, down at the giant shipyard in this Right to Work state there is both a thriving local with good contracts and one of the best apprentice programs in the country. Being in a Right to Work state negates none of the union organizing rules under federal law. But as noted before, you are not constrained by truth.

      One thing that is true: It’s a 20th Century issue not high on the priority list for younger voters, and to the extent it is, they are on the other side, hostile to business on many issues. Merely throwing out the phrase has lost its punch. Virginia will go down this road if the GA flips, if not in 2020 then soon. Virginia will continue to sink into mediocrity.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Steve – I do not call you a liar when you are ill-informed or ignorant on an issue.

    You might adopt a similar approach.

    I strongly suspect that like Federal Highway money – Federal Shipbuilding money gains workers open-shop rights that other workers in Virginia may not have in terms of organizing and negotiating.

    “Right-to-work” is MORE than just union-dues and state-level right-to-work does not seem to govern some national companies like the airlines… and UPS, postal workers, etc.

    I claim a certain amount of ignorance on the issue. I’m not alone but I don’t call others liars for their ignorance.

  4. As I said the other day, what has Right to Work done for us? It’s not like we are landing a lot of new auto manufacturing plants etc. Must be some other factors inhibiting Virginia growth: like high profit margins to Dominion etc. I guess we need to go the progressive route, stiffling high taxes and create state-gov’t mandated jobs, like building off-shore wind, instead of waiting around for business to move in.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      “right-to-work” is a Conservative canard in my opinion. It’s about boogeymen that can be used to influence some voters… and they trot them out especially at elections to keep their base from straying to the Dems!

      I’m NOT in the group that hates businesses nor the “rich”. I’m NOT in favor of over-regulation or inhibiting businesses in any way – we want them to succeed. But I also think workers have rights and need to be protected from opportunistic folks who will prey on workers at times and this is especially true with workers in the shaddows who are illegal and/or have prison records, etc…

      The 5th biggest economy IN THE WORLD – chock full of TECH companies – does NOT have right-to-work laws – and that would be California….

      One of the best school systems in the Country – New Jersey – also seems to not have right-to-work laws.

  5. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    The author of this post makes a lot of unsupported assertions. The tone of his comments is that his assertions are self-evident and all studies support them. In doing so, he ignores studies related to the negative effects of right-to-work policies. His major theme is that right-to-work laws lead to more job growth and a state’s economic growth. However, one major study found that it is difficult to separate the effect of right-to-work laws from other economic factors. (See Other studies have found that, although the number of businesses may increase in right-to-work states, the average wages and per capita income go down. (See and

    As for Amazon and New York, the post is also misleading. It implies that union hostility was the primary, if not only, reason Amazon pulled out. In fact, there were multiple reasons why the deal fell through, including public opposition to the large public subsidy ($3 billion) and fears of gentrification of the neighborhood. It seems that some unions supported Amazon locating in the city.

    Turning to his argument that, in “New York, where workers can be forced to pay union dues”, it needs to be pointed out that workers can be forced to pay union dues only if the company has been unionized and that can happen only after a majority of the workers agree to do so.

    Right-to-work is not a cut-and-dried issue. There are arguments on both sides. Any discussion of it should provide evidence and arguments and not unsupported assertions (more than a chart showing job growth over a 20-year span). Such a discussion has occurred recently here on BR. (

  6. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Right to work does not mean a person cannot voluntarily join a labor union. I know a number of people who belong to a labor union. But I know a lot of other people who don’t want to belong to a labor union for a variety of reasons. The progressives are pro-choice when it comes to abortion and one’s gender but shoot the bird to ordinary people who want to work but not pay union dues.

    If unions were so good, people would be joining them voluntarily.

  7. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    “They buckled because we held firm on the values of New Yorkers — we told them that you cannot come to New York City and declare that you will crush the rights of workers to organize,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the area where the headquarters would have been.”

    I was surprised to learn recently that New York’s labor laws were a bigger factor in that decision than I had realized. I was sent the story link above, with the set out quote. It clearly was a factor. But Dick is right and step one in New York or anywhere would be the employees themselves taking steps to organize a union through an election. And TMT, people do join them voluntarily, all the time – just not all people. And under RTW, it remains a matter of choice.

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