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Why Virginia Democrats’ Refusal To Repeal Right-To-Work Law ‘Matters’ - In Addition To The ‘Immediate Policy Impact, Leaving The Anti-Union System Intact Could Hurt’ Democrats’ Long-Term Political Prospects

Published Friday, November 29, 2019
by Daniel Marans/The Huffington Post
Why Virginia Democrats’ Refusal To Repeal Right-To-Work Law ‘Matters’ - In Addition To The ‘Immediate Policy Impact, Leaving The Anti-Union System Intact Could Hurt’ Democrats’ Long-Term Political Prospects

(RICHMOND, VIRGINIA) - Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (Democrat) has all but ruled out repealing the state’s Anti-Union Right To Work (for less) Law, dashing the hopes of a rising populist guard that is hoping to bring Virginia in line with other solidly Democratic states where Organized Labor flourishes.

A Northam spokesperson did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for clarification of the Governor’s intentions, including whether he would veto a repeal bill if it arrives on his desk.

Regardless, Northam’s remarks that he cannot “foresee” Virginia rescinding the law, delivered alongside outgoing Republican Legislative Leaders at a state economic and revenue forecast meeting, discouraging Unions and Progressives eager to see Democrats both reembrace their historic solidarity with Organized Labor and enact policy with an eye toward the party’s long-term political fortunes

“(This) is a ‘disappointing day for the Working Class Families of Virginia,’” said William Sproule, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Keystone-Mountain-Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters, which represents Union Carpenters in Virginia.

Unions have greater difficulty organizing and maintaining power in Right-To-Work states because those states bar Unions from collecting dues from Workers they represent in front of management.  As a result, some Workers choose to freeload or benefit from the Union’s protection without contributing, which typically limits a Union’s financial resources.

Right-To-Work Policy “has succeeded in its purpose: The wage levels for Working People in the state of Virginia are appalling,” said Chris Townsend, the Organizing Director of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), who has lived in Alexandria for the past 30 years.

There is research to support Townsend’s claim.

Right-To-Work states, which are almost all outside the Pro-Union Northeast and West Coast, have wages that are, on average, 3.1% lower than Pro-Union states, according to a 2015 study by the Liberal Economic Policy Institute (EPI). 

That’s true not just because of the direct benefits of Unionization for Workers, but also because the threat of Unionization prompts employers in Pro-Union states to offer better pay and benefits to stave off Unionization.

“Allowing Unions to be effective promotes the wages of ‘not just’ Union Members, but Non-Union Members ‘as well,’” said Jeff Hauser, a former AFL-CIO spokesman who now runs the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Revolving Door Project.

Virginia, where elections earlier this month handed Democrats unified control of the state government, gets particularly low marks when it comes to Workers’ Rights.

The Human Rights Non-Profit Oxfam ranked Virginia dead last in its ranking of the “best places to work in America.” 

In addition to being a Right-To-Work state, Virginia bars Public Sector Workers - those employed by the state, counties and municipalities - from engaging in collective bargaining. 

Legislator Jennifer Carroll Foy (Democrat), a public defender representing the outermost suburbs of Northern Virginia, still hopes to pass legislation overturning the Right-To-Work Law.

She noted that Legislator Lee Carter (Democrat), a Democratic Socialist from Manassas, has vowed to introduce repeal legislation. 

“In Virginia, ‘we can not only win by being a good state for business, but we can also win by being one of the best states for Workers,’” Carroll Foy said. “Many other states have done this.”

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