Tyler Arnold | The Center Square
Right-to-work laws have been on the books in Virginia for nearly three-quarters of a century, but the two main candidates running to be the next governor hold opposing views on whether it should stay that way.
The current law has support from Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin, but is opposed by Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe.
Virginia lawmakers passed the commonwealth’s right-to-work law in 1947, which has protected workers from being forced to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. The law effectively prohibits unions and employers from negotiating a contract that would require each worker to be a part of the union and prevents a person from losing his job if he decides not to join it.
In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that public sector workers could not be forced to join a union as a condition of employment, but the ruling did not address private sector workers, which means those laws remain a state issue.
According to a poll from last year, two-thirds of Virginians think the state should maintain its right-to-work protections, including a majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents. A lot of the efforts to repeal these laws have come from unions.
Youngkin has publicly said he supports keeping the state’s right-to-work law.
“I’m going to protect right-to-work because if we lose right-to-work it’s going to be the death knell for Virginia business,” Youngkin said in a debate Thursday evening. “And my opponent is going to get rid of it.”
McAuliffe avoided commenting on right-to-work during the debate, but has said during his campaign that he would repeal the law if given the opportunity. The only caveat is he doesn’t think it could pass in the General Assembly and he would rather focus on policies that he can get done.
“If it came to my desk, sure I’d sign it, but listen, you can’t get it through the House and Senate,” McAuliffe told Chris King, the president of the Democratic Business Council of Northern Virginia, back in April.
Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, introduced legislation earlier this year to repeal right-to-work, but it was defeated 83-13 in the Democratic-controlled House. The Virginia Senate, also under Democratic control, has never even held a vote on a repeal.
John Kalb, the president of National Right to Work, told The Center Square that repealing right-to-work laws would obliterate the freedom of Virginia’s private sector workers and threaten economic opportunity and job growth.
“The next governor of Virginia must defend Commonwealth workers’ right to resist funding union officials they oppose and uphold the Commonwealth’s 74 year old Right to Work Law,” Kalb said in an email. “Big Labor has been unabashedly throwing money around this election cycle in pursuit of gaining forced-dues privileges in the state, and any politician who prioritizes Big Labor’s influence over workers’ individual rights is not fit to lead the state.”
Jaime Contreras, the vice president of 32BJ SEIU and head of the union in Virginia, told The Center Square that right-to-work laws allow non-union members to freeload by taking advantage of the union negotiations without paying any union dues. The SEIU union has endorsed McAuliffe for governor.
“We wholeheartedly support the effort to repeal the right-to-work laws in Virginia and around the country,” Contreras said in an email. “These duplicitous laws should really be called right-to-freeload laws, because they allow nonunion employees to enjoy union benefits without paying dues. It’s like enjoying all the benefits of citizenship –from paved roads to national defense – without paying a cent in taxes. Virginians, and all Americans, are raised better than that.”
Democratic lawmakers did successfully pass union-friendly legislation after gaining a majority, which allows local governments to write ordinances that permit public sector collective bargaining rights within their jurisdiction. McAuliffe has said he wants to have broader collective bargaining rights. Supporters of collective bargaining argue that it leads to better pay and benefits for workers, but opponents say it increases costs that have to be paid by taxpayers.
Early voting for the governor’s race began Friday and election day is Nov. 2. Polls are currently showing McAuliffe with a very narrow lead on Youngkin.
This article was first published by The Center Square on September 20, 2021.