Virginia as New Jersey: Dem Support Grows to Repeal Right-to-Work

Right-to-work states.

by James A. Bacon

Democrats may or may not be poised to take control of the Virginia General Assembly. Steve Haner, who knows infinitely more about Virginia politics than I do, thinks Republicans have a shot at retaining their majorities. But from my untutored perspective, all signs point to a big Democratic win this fall. A return of state governance to the Democrats has very different implications today than it would have, say, 20 years ago. This is not the party of Jerry Baliles, Doug Wilder or even Mark Warner (back when he governed the state as a moderate). The Dems have moved far to the left and, as I opined recently, issues that were never issues before now are.

A case in point: A Virginia Chamber of Commerce survey of state lawmakers has found that a majority of Democratic lawmakers say they oppose the state’s right-to-work law.

Reports VPM:

Dozens of Democratic candidates skipped the question or did not respond to the Chamber’s annual survey. But a majority answered, and all but three candidates in the House of Delegates and four in the Senate said they did not support the law. Most of the candidates who made that pick were either incumbents in safe Democratic districts or challengers with no legislative record.

The right-to-work law protects workers from the compulsion to join a union when they accept a job at a unionized workplace. The moral case for the law is to preserve an individual’s freedom of choice. The practical case is that a state’s right-to-work status is as significant factor when corporations decide where to locate new facilities, especially manufacturing facilities. Pro-business Democrats of yore, many of whom had rural roots, once supported the law as a foundation of Virginia’s economic competitiveness.

Many of today’s Democrats feel differently. Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, a self-described socialist, sponsored a bill in the 2019 session to repeal the law. The legislation is entitled, “Right to work; union shops and agency shops.” It might better be described as “The Rural Virginia Dis-investment Act.”

It’s not as if the urban/suburban constituents represented by Democrats in Virginia are clamoring to repeal the law. What’s going on? Very simple: Organized labor (as opposed to the actual working class people labor unions represent) are one of the most consistently pro-Democratic interest groups in the country. In Virginia, labor unions have contributed almost $3.9 million during the current electoral cycle — almost exclusively to Democrats and “other,” according to the Virginia Public Access Project. (I’m not sure what “other” refers to, but it’s not Republicans.)

Eliminating the right-to-work law will boost union membership, which will increase union dues, which will shovel more money into campaign contributions, which will fill the coffers of Democratic Party candidates.

Next on the slippery slope to becoming New Jersey: Let public-sector employees unionize!

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22 responses to “Virginia as New Jersey: Dem Support Grows to Repeal Right-to-Work

  1. Oh this is rich. The same conservative Republicans who thought unlimited campaign contributions to state politicians were just fine and dandy now decry the fact that unions are stuffing the pockets of our crooked politicians. You know what comes next. The Democrats win enough of the key races to take a majority and have a trifecta in Virginia – Delegates, Senate, Governor. Gun control, Medicaid expansions expansions, ending the right to work law … and on and on. How long will it take for Virginia’s conservative Republicans to start bitching up a storm about the strong implementation of Dillon’s Rule in Virginia? I’ll give it until this time next year.

    Don’t say this is the first time I’ve brought this up …

    https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/dillons-rule-the-rpv-and-the-marylandization-of-virginia/

    The RPV should have seen the writing on the wall while it still had a majority. Regionalize some of the power. But let’s be honest – the RPV’s leadership just doesn’t have the intellectual horsepower for effective forward thinking.

  2. Public sector workers? Even FDR understood the danger of that. A few weeks back in a controlled leak the Democrats’ main flack, Jeff Schapiro, wrote a column in the RTD about how Gov. Northam had told the unions he wouldn’t sign it, don’t try, yadda yadda. All off the record sources, of course. All an act, just like the public split with the state’s dominant utility. If the bill gets to his desk, Northam will sign it. I don’t see how he couldn’t, really, given all the effort the unions are putting into this election.

    Before VPM, the story appeared on a small non-profit news outlet The Center Square. https://www.thecentersquare.com/virginia/

    It provided a link to the Chamber of Commerce’s web site with the survey results. I had noted that the Chamber’s “report card” on the past session didn’t publicly reveal the bills scored, but this is more open. I must say it is hard to navigate, but for wonks, go at it. https://vaelectioncenter.com/questionnaire-results

    Ripper’s point is well taken that you can’t argue about unlimited money or in-kind support without recognizing the rules need to apply to all. I’ve tried to be consistent. An effort was mounted to put Right to Work in the constitution, but it was defeated. Don’t ask me to defend RPV – I took the GOP Caucus operation out of that building to create some space 30 years ago, and that iteration of RPV was far stronger than today’s.

  3. OMG Jim please say “No”. OK just kidding.
    That’s so funny I was just talking about Virginia’s Right-to-Work policy yesterday. Of course the HQ office building is only about a mile from here on the I495 Beltway at Braddock Road.

    What I was just asking someone yesterday, what has the Right-to-Work policy done for us lately? With the GM auto workers striking, you’d think we could land a car manufacturing plant in non-union Virginia. Yet we get by-passed on virtually all of these nifty projects. I must assume our state policies (taxes etc) are not conducive to attracting plants. Let’s hear Mr. Moret on that?

    Oh boy, New Jersey. When I was there the official state policy was to build coal power plants ASAP, and I was fighting it. My rival was a union organizer who advanced to the highest levels of elected office. When I would speak out at a public meeting, there would be 500 union guys in the audience to “boo” me. So it took a thick skin. However, I must say they were on their best behavior, no threat of violence, but it was scary.

    That’s where (South Jersey) they are now building, or going to build, the off-shore wind turbine manufacturing plant. Analogous to Norfolk, South Jersey is across the river from the former Philly Naval shipyard so we had a bevy of union guys to stack the public hearings on whatever.

  4. Yeah got to love BR. It is stuck so quaintly in the past.With Dems on the verge of taking the GA, you have all the boo-a-boos of “radical left” and the end of “right to work.” A little perspective. Virginia has the fifth lowest numbers of union workers in the country. “Right to work” was the bug-a-boo used more than a half century before or more to make sure that those textile and other manufacturing jobs the South was stealing from the Yankees could smooth the way to do it. What’s interesting is that very few of the commentators on the Blog, especially JAB, have ever worked in a union state. I have and it is not the experience they imagine it to be. Unions are not always blue collar, thugs waiting to whack Jimmy Hoffa. Many are skill,ed knowledgeable economists and business experts.

    • I worked for twelve years for the largest union employer in the state, with the largest local in the US, and have a very high opinion of most of those activists I met. Watched three contract cycles, as I recall, all smooth. Their local president is another matter, a man who actually hated the company (!), but even the state AFL-CIO recognized that and worked around him. But thousands of employees at that company have consciously chosen not to join, not to pay the dues, not to contribute to that PAC, and that free choice should remain. (Frankly, I think some of that avoidance was because of that local leadership with its nasty rhetoric, but not my job to advise the USW.) It was a good opportunity to watch the process from the inside and discover that company management was not out to destroy the union and saw value in working through the contract. My job was lobbyist but I was assigned to HR and worked for the HR VP, because so many of the issues were workplace related.

    • Ich bin ein former South Jersey’er

    • You are right Peter – if an issue can be demogagued – count on the GOP to do it.

      If you fly – the pilot is union. If you get deliveries from Amazon via UPS – they are unionized.

      Most of the road infrastructure is built by union workers.

      Most of the States who are unionized has better academic performance in the schools.

      In states where there are unions – there are apprentice programs for entry level workers.

      but that boogeyman narrative continues to be flogged with vigor from those who know there are votes to be had…

  5. It looks like the state GOP is finally on top of this story. See the Va House GOP Warn Room press release here.

  6. The Dems have moved LEFT on “Right to Work”? WHo knew?

    So all those states shown on the Map have “moved LEFT”?

    Let me point out something about New Jersey by the way – they have arguably the best schools in the country – and their teachers are union!

    The worst school systems in the country are largely in “right to work” states.

    I NEVER think “company management” is “out to destroy a Union” to be honest but I DO think they have their parochial interests especially with regard to profit and competitiveness but I also think workers have their legitimate interests also.

    Remember we now decry the loss of “apprenticeship” jobs… remember them?

  7. First, a quibble: Jim’s angst seems to be “that a majority of Democratic lawmakers say they oppose the state’s right-to-work law.” But, that is not what the Chamber survey revealed. The Chamber surveyed all Democratic candidates, not just lawmakers. Of those surveyed, “dozens” did not respond. However, a majority of the Democratic candidates (no indication of the split between incumbents and challengers) opposed the right-to-work law. In summary, there may not be as much to fear as thought.

    Second quibble: Jim contends the Democratic party today is not the party of Baliles and Warner. Well, today’s Republican party is not the party of Dalton or Gilmore, or even Allen, either.

    Now, on to substance. The argument made in favor of right-to-work laws is the protection of workers’ individual freedom of choice. But that ignores the equity question of non-union workers getting to enjoy the benefits won by unions supported by dues paying members. It is interesting that many of those who are upset at the prospect of persons being able to get Medicaid benefits without having to get a job are not similarly upset about workers getting to enjoy union benefits without having to pay for them.

    I understand the argument that workers should not have to pay dues to an organization whose political activities they disagree with. If right-to-work were to be abolished, unions should be required to designate what proportion of their expenses are related to lobbying, electioneering and other political work and workers would have the option of paying dues to support only the non-political activities of the union.

    I have long suspected that the real motivation behind right-to-work is not protection of worker freedoms, but the weakening of unions, which fits in with Don Rippert’s “plantation” society thesis.

    • Dick, here’s what VPM said:

      “Dozens of Democratic candidates skipped the question or did not respond to the Chamber’s annual survey. But a majority answered, and all but three candidates in the House of Delegates and four in the Senate said they did not support the law.”

      So, dozens out of 140 legislators (or 60-70 Democratic legislators) did not respond. But of those who did, almost all oppose Right-to-Work. Now, let’s consider why some might not have responded to a Chamber of Commerce question on RtW… most likely because they did not want to tick off the Chamber. While the numbers are ambiguous, I think we’re safe in saying that a majority oppose RtW.

      As for Republicans not being the party of Gilmore and Allen, who said they were?

      • re: ” As for Republicans not being the party of Gilmore and Allen, who said they were?”

        the premise that he Dems have moved “left” while ignoring what the GOP has done is not at all accurate.

        The GOP has clearly moved hard right on a number of issues in my mind and Right-to-work has ALWAYS been an issues that Dems see differently than GOP.. it’s NOT a “new” thing.

  8. “But that ignores the equity question of non-union workers getting to enjoy the benefits won by unions supported by dues paying members.”

    I’ll take that on, Dick. The thing about union contracts is they are great levelers. The best welder and the worst get paid the same, get offered overtime on the same set of rules. Merit is not rewarded and can even be discouraged. So quite a few of the people who refuse to join might be feeling that their lot in life is damaged, constrained by the contract, not enhanced. No, I do not see them as “free riders” on some gravy train. They are doing the same work and getting the same pay for it. Absent a contract they might be paid more, and many of them know it. Skilled labor today is in high demand. I don’t think union members get much for their dues except an added layer of bureaucracy and complication.

    I knew of a guy at the yard who had to give up being on a local governing board because the meetings conflicted with his work schedule, and the contract work rules gave him no way to solve the problem. The company was willing, but the union wouldn’t budge. I’m not anti union but there is always a downside. Working for state government is a different world.

    • As usual, I have learned from you. Having never been associated with a union or really talked to anyone who had any association with one, I was unaware of the leveling aspect of union contracts. However, I am skeptical of your contention that union members don’t get much for their dues. If that were the case, why do companies fight unionization efforts? And, why would UAW workers go on strike if they did not think there was some benefit to doing so?

      • As it happens, in my paying gig I’m writing a history of the A.T. Massey Coal Company which fought a protracted conflict with the United Mine Workers. Bottom line: The UMWA contract severely curtailed efforts to increase labor productivity. Unions want to preserve jobs (and dues). Corporations want to improve productivity.

        • re: ” Unions want to preserve jobs (and dues). Corporations want to improve productivity.”

          that’s correct – and both sides need to be able to assert/promote their interests.

          higher productivity that comes at a higher cost to workers is an issues especially when it comes to safety and decent working conditions. Unions are why most factory workers actually have health care and 401Ks. Many companies that are not unionized do not offer either…

          It’s a partisan view that says Unions are a “left” idea… That perspective comes from folks – on the right.

          The other thing is that Unions provide training and apprenticeship functions, that also are much less extant in non-union workplaces.

          both sides can – and do go over the line at times.

          Part of our immigration problem is outlaw companies knowingly hiring illegals instead of using E-Verify and this not only affects immigration but govt-provided benefits for illegal and the loss of jobs for Americans. Unions would not allow it – but companies want the cheaper labor.

  9. Steve, interesting perspective on nn. Had a close journalist friend back in the day who covered it

  10. As I’ve posted numerous times, I did work in a non-R2W state, Minnesota. One place, a unionized envelope factory, the union did not insist summer workers (high school & college students) join the union or pay union dues. We didn’t make a lot of money and had no benefits but it was a summer job.

    The other place was Montgomery Ward’s catalog house. There, part-timers had to join the union or pay union dues. It was OK during the summer when I worked fulltime and “tolerable” during the school year when I was working a few days per week for at least four hours each day.

    But as I’ve said, every March after inventory ended, all the part-timers got laid off. We’d normally get called back sometime in April. So we didn’t work for six weeks or slightly more. But, unless the part-time worker withdrew from the union and paid a $75 fee to rejoin (we were making $1.60 or so per hour), we continued to accrue union due liability for the six weeks we didn’t work. So I get called back in April and for a few weeks, I didn’t get paid. All my earnings went to taxes, union dues and back union dues. I remember a couple of checks where my earnings weren’t high enough for FIT withholding but I still got nothing as FICA, SIT, union dues and back union dues. The union provided no training and had agreed to a contract where part-time workers were not eligible for any benefits.

    Right to work laws protect workers against union abuses like this. Or am I missing something?

    Fully agree with Larry that the feds should smash down on companies that don’t have E-Verify compliance for all their workers.

  11. Unions typically do not allow illegals to work at a unionized shop and that’s another reason employers don’t want unions because illegals will work for less money, longer hours, no benefits and a lack of safety protections.

    And the irony is that companies that hire illegals will then be able to undercut competitors for the cost of products and services thus forcing competitors to make cuts.

    Unions also train workers and provide a certification path for skills and knowledge – not unlike many police and fire (which are often unionized). If your local police is organized – all employees should pay for the staff that supports them individually.

    One thing that is not often shown in these discussions is that a union and in Virginia, even a organized employee group like the VEA WILL provide legal counsel and support to teachers who pay their VEQ dues and not to those who do not. Believe it or not, their are unprincipled principals and administrators who will attempt to fire a teacher as a way to enforce unethical or even illegal policies – and to keep the others “in line”. A teacher organization guards against that – guards against efforts to get teachers to cheat on SOLs, for instance.

    Demonizing unions and labeling all employee organizations like VEA as a de facto union is what the GOP and Conservatives generally do and they give their reasons like “forcing” workers to pay dues but they completely ignore all the employer abuses that occur in places where there are no protections for workers.

    Workers have rights. It’s in the best interest of society at large that workers are not forced into doing things unethical and illegal because the employer forces them to – and there is no balance to prevent it.

    the GOP loves employers to have that “right” – but it’s a harm to US in the end when workers are abused and rules and laws (like immigration) broken with no penalities.

    • In a right-to-work state, employees are permitted to join unions voluntarily. I know people who live and work in Virginia and belong to a union. And under federal law, unions can try to organize workers from a company or trade and bargain collectively in union or R2W states. But it’s not fair to force workers to join a union or pay a dues equivalent fee.

      And, yes, I’ll support any type of crackdown on companies that knowingly hire people not authorized to work in the United States. They make higher profits while socializing the costs associated with their workers.

      • I’m okay with that as long as union benefits are not available to those who do not pay dues. That would include legal help for job actions, supplemental union-based health and retirement benefits, etc.

        For instance, in Virginia, teachers that do not belong to VEA do not get legal help when the schools take action against them.

        The employers who oppose unions – often are fine with the current weak laws on illegals because they often utilize illegal help through their sub-contractors and suppliers.

        More than that – the GOP that is all for Right-to-work are all wet on E-Verify – BECAUSE their business constituency wants RTW and opposed E-Verify which in my mind is totally hypocritical and much worse than the Dems stance on RTW because the Dems are all about protecting workers rights and the GOP is all about protecting business interests even at the expense of workers.

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