Delegates Propose Bills to Protect VA's Right to Work Stance
Virginia is a right-to-work state, so workers here cannot be forced to join a union. Michigan, formerly a labor stronghold, joined Virginia and 22 other states on the right-to-work list Tuesday.
Legislators describe Virginia as a pretty strong right-to-work state; it's been the law of the land in the commonwealth for more than 60 years. But some republican legislators want to beef up that law with constitutional amendments, which democrats say is going too far.
Protests at Michigan's state capitol create a stark contrast to the relative silence in Richmond. A right-to-work law has been on the books in Virginia since 1947, but that's not enough for Republican legislators.
20th District Delegate Dickie Bell (R) said, "Are we really going to wait until we have to react to something negative in terms of right to work? Or are we going to be proactive and protect the right to work in Virginia?"
Bell's amendment would establish Virginia's right-to-work law in the state constitution. The same proposal passed the House in 2011, but died in a Senate committee. "I wanted to bring it back; this is the year to do it," said Bell.
House Minority Leader David Toscano doesn't like the idea. "If it's not broke, let's not fix it by changing the Constitution," he said. "We don't have a right-to-work issue here. No one's arguing that it should be repealed in Virginia, so I don't see what the rationale is."
But Bell isn't the only lawmaker looking to put a hold on unions.
An amendment by 17th District State Senator Bryce Reeves would keep union voting private. It's a measure he's taking against potential federal card check legislation, that would make it easier for workers to unionize. Reeves argues card check would introduce the potential for union intimidation of voting members without secret-ballot elections.
"For me, this is a safeguard," Reeves said. "It's an encroachment almost onto our state's rights. I want to solidify that, get it on the books."
Reeves' amendment will come out of committee, to the Senate floor next year. In the meantime, lawmakers like Toscano are still skeptical.
"I don't think you should amend the constitution every time you have a difference of opinion on a key issue," Toscano said.
It does take quite a bit for an amendment to make it onto the ballot. It must be passed twice by both houses, before and after a general election, so both of these proposals have a long road ahead if they do succeed this time around.