There was a time not long ago when Virginia’s “right to work” law was sacrosanct, even for Democrats.
That was then, this is now.
At both the state and Federal level, a number of Virginia Democrats are ramping up their efforts to roll back the Right-to-Work law.
Earlier this month Rep. Bobby Scott, D-3rd, introduced the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a bill that would among other things, effectively roll back Right-to-Work laws across the country.
“Evidence and experience demonstrate that labor unions are one of the most powerful tools workers have to improve the standard of living for themselves and their families,” Scott said in a release announcing the bill
“However, there are currently no meaningful penalties for predatory corporations that use unlawful tactics to discourage workers from organizing a union,” he added.
Fellow Virginia Democratic Reps. Elaine Luria, D-2nd, and Don Beyer, D-8th, have also signed on to the bill.
In place since 1947, Virginia’s Right to Work law makes it illegal for form a “closed shop.” Employees are free to form unions and engage in collective bargaining, but joining the union cannot be made a-condition of employment.
Scott, Luria and Beyer aren’t alone. State legislators and candidates have also come out for Right to Work repeal.
Del. Lee Carter, D-Manasssas, introduced a bill this year that would have repealed the law.
“Repealing it is bigger than just the actual technical changes that it would make,” Thomas McIntire, Carter’s legislative aide told Capitol News Service. “It sends a signal to workers in Virginia saying that your voice matters.”
Democrat candidate Dan Helmer, running in House District 40, announced his support for repeal in a tweet.
“We trust [Dan Helmer] to uphold working families values and protect area wages and standards, combat cheating contractors in the construction industry, and repeal Virginia’s so-called ‘Right to Work’ law,” he tweeted, announcing an endorsement from the Carpenter’s Union.
Previously, Democratic leadership had insisted that nobody was discussing a repeal of Virginia’s Right to Work laws.
“We don’t have a right-to-work issue here,” then-minority leader David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, told NBC29 in 2012. “No one’s arguing that it should be repealed in Virginia, so I don’t see what the rationale is.”
The Right to Work issue surfaced again in 2016 as lawmakers proposed adding the provision as a worker’s right in Virginia’s constitution.
During a floor debate between the amendment’s sponsor, Delegate Dickie Bell (R-Staunton) and Toscano, Bell expressed concern over the long-term future of the right, which the Democratic leader dismissed.
“I’d ask the gentleman in light of his worry about a challenge, can he point to any time that this Right to Work statute has been challenged in the sense that legislation has been offered to overturn it or repeal it?” he said.
“For the life of me, I can’t understand the rationale for why this bill is here,” Toscano continued, in saying the amendment was “not a pressing concern.
Economic development officials say Right to Work status is particularly important for Virginia, as the Commonwealth is the northernmost such state on the East Coast. Employers who want to stay close to major markets in the I-95 corridor need go no further than Virginia to find a business-friendly climate.
For their part, Republicans say Right to Work isn’t going anywhere as long as they have 51 seats in the House of Delegates.
“Right to Work is a fundamental part of what makes Virginia’s economy a great place to do business,” said Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights.