Why Virginia’s Open Shop Referendum Should Matter to U.S. Labor Movement

The most important election in Virginia this year has no candidates on the ballot.
Douglas Williams
On February 2nd, the Republican-dominated General Assembly passed the two-session threshold needed to put the open shop before the Commonwealth’s voters in November. You might be asking yourself, “Wait. I thought that Virginia was already an open-shop state?” Your inclinations would be correct: legislation barring union membership as a condition of employment was signed into law by Gov. William Tuck (a later adherent to Massive Resistance in response to Brown v. Board of Educationas a member of Congress) in 1947. As a result, Section 40.1-58 of the Code of Virginia reads:

It is hereby declared to be the public policy of Virginia that the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor union or labor organization.

So why do this? The easy answer is that Virginia Republicans are fearful that, should the open shop meet a legal challenge in state court, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring would not seek to defend it. The sponsor of the bill and defeated 2013 nominee for Attorney General, State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), stated as much in the deliberations on the bill. In addition, should the Assembly find itself in pro-labor hands in the future, they could overturn the open shop with a simple majority vote. Never mind that the extreme amounts of gerrymandering in the Assembly (particularly in the House of Delegates) makes a unified Democratic state government unlikely for decades to come.

The vote this November will be the first popular referendum on the open shop since 54 percent of Oklahoma voters approved State Question 695 on September 25, 2001. In this, an opportunity presents itself to the labor movement in this country, and it is one that labor unions must take. Continue reading

The Right to Exploit

by Sean Carter

right to work

From the inception of the National Labor Relations Act (otherwise known as the Wagner Act), business interests in the United State have been destroying the rights guaranteed by this legislation. Most important was passing Right-to-Work laws enabled through the passing of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, just twelve years after the ink dried on the Wagner Act in 1935.

Florida enacted the first Right-to Work law in 1943. Since then 23 states have followed suit, most of them in the South and in West. Michigan is a recent addition that is alarming because in a traditional union area.

Here is a list in alphabetical order of those states in the U.S. that are now Right-to-Work:

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming

Proponents of this legislation asserted that these laws would encourage job growth and the economic benefits that went along with job growth. This would prove that “trickle-down” economics worked. The reality is much different. States that went Right-to-Work often used economically damaging tactics such as tax breaks to business owners and relocation to poorer areas to drive wages down.

In my own state of Kansas, that went Right-to-Work in 1958, the manufacturing sector of the state continues to suffer.The southeastern sector of the state, which I come from, saw an evisceration of manufacturing jobs which led to depopulation together with high unemployment, low tax revenue, decrease in quality education, housing, and increase in violent crime. Most recently one of the largest towns in the area lost its hospital.

The following facts give an accurate comparison as to the effects of these laws on those states as compared to states that do not have Right-to-Work laws.

family incomes are $5,971 less per year (12.2%) overall
median household income is $6,658 less per year (11.8%) overall
16.3% – 12.4% persons under 65 more likely to uninsured
53.9% – 57.1% job based insurance coverage
46.8% – 52.6% job based insurance coverage in the private sector
30.3% – 38.8% job based insurance coverage in small businesses ( larger poverty rates 14.8% – 13.1% overall (20.2% – 18.3% in children)
infant mortality rate is 14.2% higher in RTW states
31.3% less spent per pupil in education in RTW states
54.4% higher workplace death rate in RTW states

*statistics sources: Bureau of Labor/Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

States that have Right-to-Work laws have a lower standard of living than those states that have chosen not to adopt these laws. This is regression not progression and must come to an end. Just as there was a movement to take away workers rights and put these socially damaging laws into place, there can be a movement to get rid of these laws and further prevent any other states from enacting them. That movement starts with us, the individual, through solidarity with other individuals that stand for progress. We must be the ripples in the pond of society and do our part to enact change.

Sean Carter is middle/high school and junior college teacher, living in Lawrence, KS. He has spent his educational career as a member of the Kansas National Educational Association (KNEA), and has negotiated in one district. His father spent 43 years as a IBEW contract electrician, and his brother works as a maintenance electrician and is head of the local Sheet Metal union.

Using the Court to Oppose Unions

by Rick Patelunas


Elections, right-to-work laws and battles in states like Wisconsin often grab the headlines, but the courts can be just as an effective tool of the Right to oppose workers’ rights.  The basic right to bargain collectively with any effectiveness requires resources and funding those resources should be shared by those who realize the benefits.  In an effort to cut off or stifle funding, right-to-work advocates argue that requiring union contributions by workers is coercion that violates the workers’ First Amendment right to free speech.  The reasoning is that individual workers may not agree with all of the union positions and by contributing, they are forced to aid policies they didn’t support.
Continue reading

A Smart Strategy to Defeat ‘Right to Work’

by Rand Wilson


Without aggressive action, the right-to-work tsunami will sweep more states. “Just Cause for All” campaigns should be part of the strategy. Photo: Glenn Schmidt.

Wisconsin is now the 25th state to adopt a so-called “right-to-work” law, which allows workers to benefit from collective bargaining without having to pay for it.

It joins Michigan and Indiana, which both adopted right to work in 2012. Similar initiatives, or variants, are spreading to Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and West Virginia—and the National Right to Work Committee and the American Legislative Exchange Council probably have a well-developed list of additional targets.

Without aggressive action, the right-to-work tsunami will sweep more states. To defeat it, the first step is committing to fight back, rather than resigning ourselves to what some say is inevitable.

Everyone’s Interests

We’ll have to go beyond what we’ve mostly been saying so far, which is that right to work is “unfair” or “wrong.”

That argument certainly works for most union households and many of our community allies. But the real challenge is to convince a much broader public that a strong (and fairly-funded) labor movement is in their interest and worth preserving. Clearly most Americans aren’t yet convinced.

Many unions over the last few years have undertaken important campaigns along these lines. For example, teachers unions have positioned themselves as defenders of quality public education. Refinery workers have struck for public safety.

Nurses and health care unions have fought for safe staffing to improve the quality of care. And most notably, the Service Employees (SEIU) and others have waged the “Fight for $15” for fast food and other low-wage workers.

In its own way, each union is working hard to be a champion of the entire working class. Yet with the exception of SEIU’s Fight for $15, each is essentially focused on the issues of its core constituency at work. This still limits the public’s perception of labor.

Supporters of right to work cynically play on the resentment many workers feel about their declining standard of living. Absent a union contract, the vast majority have few, if any, ways to address it. To most, organizing looks impossible and politics looks broken.

Workers’ understandable frustration is fertile ground for the far right, which promises to improve the business climate and create more jobs by stripping union members of their power.

Thus, when we anticipate right to work’s next targets, the best defense should be a good offense—one that clearly positions labor as a force for the good of all workers.

‘Just Cause for All’

Here’s one approach that would put labor on the offensive: an initiative for a new law providing all workers with due process rights to challenge unjust discipline and discharge, “Just Cause for All.”

Such a law would take aim at the “at-will” employment standard covering most non-union workers in the U.S. At-will employees can be fired for any reason and at any time—without just cause.

While such a major expansion of workers’ rights as Just Cause for All would be unlikely to pass in most state legislatures—Montana did it in 1987, but it’s still the only one—it could become law in states that allow ballot initiatives.

A well-orchestrated attack on the at-will employment standard would force the extreme, anti-worker, and big business interests who back right to work to respond. If nothing else, imagine how competing initiatives would force a debate. On one side, extending due process protections and increased job security to all workers: a real right-to-work bill. On the other side, taking away fair share contributions for collective bargaining.

This strategy isn’t untested. When the Coors beer dynasty backed a right-to-work ballot initiative in Colorado in 2008, labor collected signatures for a counter-initiative, “Allowable Reasons for Employee Discharge or Suspension,” which would have overturned at-will employment. (Labor also supported a proposal that would have provided affordable health insurance to all employees and a measure to allow workers injured on the job to sue for damages in state courts.)

Fearing that the just cause proposal might pass, centrist business people offered a deal. In exchange for labor withdrawing its proposal, they provided financial support and manpower that helped labor defeat right to work in Colorado. (For more on this story, read “The 2008 Defeat of Right to Work in Colorado: Is it the End of Section 14(b)?” Raymond L. Hogler, Labor Law Journal, Spring 2009.)

While it’s unfortunate that the labor initiative didn’t go before Colorado voters, the result was still encouraging—and instructive. By championing the interests of all workers, labor split business and blunted the right-to-work effort.

To win back “fair-share” participation in the three new right-to-work states and stop further attacks, we’ll need well-planned campaigns that include grassroots mobilization, direct action, paid and earned media, and focused electoral work.

Just Cause for All campaigns should be part of the strategy. Even if we lose, campaigns for due process and job security for all will help shift the debate on right to work, leave the labor movement stronger—and make labor and its allies once again the champions of the “99%.”

Rand Wilson is policy and communications director at SEIU Local 888 in Boston.  This Viewpoint is reposted from Labor Notes with permission of the author.

Kentucky Unions sue over County right to work Ordinance

by Berry Craig
AFT Local 1360


 Nine local and international unions filed suit in federal court in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday to block nearby Hardin County’s newly- enacted right to work ordinance.

 The unions say the measure, which the county fiscal court passed Tuesday, 8-1, violates the National Labor Relations Act.

Several members of the unions live in Hardin County, which adjoins Jefferson County, whose seat is Louisville. Two of the local unions are headquartered in Elizabethtown, the Hardin County seat, and another in Cecelia, also in Hardin County. Besides Hardin County, Warren, Simpson, Fulton and Todd counties have passed local right to work ordinances. Cumberland County has approved an ordinance on first reading.

The lawsuit challenges only the Hardin County ordinance. But Louisville attorney Irwin Cutler, who represents the unions, said the suit could be broadened to cover legal action to overturn the ordinances approved in other counties.

Warren was the first county to pass a right to work ordinance. Before the magistrates voted 5-1 in favor of the measure last month, Kentucky Attorney Gen. Jack Conway’s office issued an opinion warning that counties lacked the legal authority to pass such ordinances.

Last fall, Republicans candidates for the state House of Representatives promised to pass a right to work law if they gained a majority in the legislature’s lower chamber. The Democrats held their 54-46 edge.
The Republican-majority state senate recently passed a right to work law. The bill is expected to die in the House.

Said Bill Londrigan, Kentucky State AFL-CIO president: “This past election cycle, working Kentuckians rejected corporations’ bad faith attempt to take over the state legislature and poison their policies. Now these same out-of-state corporate interests want to take over our county governments by pushing a radical outside agenda. These illegal ordinances will affect all workers, union and non-union. They will decrease wages, lower median household income, increase poverty, and undermine workplace safety.”

Londrigan added that in 1965, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled “that these so-called ‘right to work’ laws can only be made at the state level.” He said the county right to work ordinances are “illegal and will hurt our hard working families. Also, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway presented an opinion stating that counties lack the authority to pass this type of ordinance.”

Londrigan also said that “hardworking Kentuckians need a raise, more good jobs, and more investment in education — not unfair, illegal and unnecessary legislation. We need to stop wasting taxpayers’ money with these attacks on Kentucky workers by out-of-state special interests pushing a radical out-of-state agenda. Our mission is to improve the lives of all working Kentuckians and raise the standard of living for all Kentuckians. We salute workers in Hardin County for taking a stand against out-of-state corporate interests.”

The plaintiffs in the suit are United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America Local 3047, Elizabethtown; UAW, Detroit; International Chemical Workers Union Council of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Akron, Ohio; UFCW Local 970C, Cecelia; UFCW Local 227, Louisville; General Drivers, Warehousemen and Helpers Local 89, Louisville; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 369, Louisville; International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers-Communications Workers of America, The Industrial Division of the Communications Workers of America, Dayton, Ohio; IUE-CWA, Industrial Division, CWA Local 83766, Elizabethtown.

Continue reading

Kentucky Voters Reject “Right to Work”

by Berry Craig






Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo Campaigns at Union Rally in Paducah


The Kentucky House is standing firm against right to work

Proponents of county right to work ordinances in Kentucky claim most Bluegrass State citizens are pro-right to work.

It may be an old cliché, but the only poll that counts is the one on election day. Last November 4, right to work lost.

Almost every Republican candidate for the state House of Representatives pledged to help make Kentucky the 25th right to work state. A right to work law was a central plank in the GOP’s “Handshake with Kentucky” platform.

On the stump, in a flurry of campaign fliers and in a seemingly endless round of radio and TV commercials, Republican House hopefuls vowed to pass a right to work law if the GOP flipped the General Assembly’s lower chamber. (The state Senate has a pro-right to work Republican majority.)

Yet the Democrats held their 54-46 edge in the House of Representatives.

Oh, at first, the Republicans seemed pretty sure they’d win the House, where most Democrats – and even some Republicans – oppose a right to work law. Such laws allow workers at a unionized jobsite to enjoy union-won wages and benefits without joining the union and paying dues or paying the union a service fee. Under right to work laws, unions must also represent non-union workers to management.

But by late summer, it looked like the GOP’s confidence might be waning. Or, at least, the Republicans seemed to be devising a Plan B.

In early September, state Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, sought an opinion from Attorney Gen. Jack Conway on whether counties could legally pass right to work ordinances.

In late December, Conway’s office, citing federal labor law, said no.

The GOP’s Plan B kicked in anyway. Minutes after Conway’s opinion was issued, the Warren County fiscal court approved a right to work ordinance. Simpson, Fulton and Todd counties have followed.

In addition, Hardinand Cumberland counties have passed right to work ordinances on first reading.  Butler County is considering one.

Not surprisingly, right to work backers claim Conway, a Democrat, is biased in favor of unions. Yet even the GOP-friendly, anti-union National Right to Work Committee warns “there is zero reason to believe that any local Right to Work ordinances adopted in Kentucky or any other state will be upheld in court.”

At any rate, unions are expected to challenge the ordinances in court this month, labor attorney Dave Suetholz of Louisville told the Simpson fiscal court. The Kentucky State AFL-CIO is working closely with the national AFL-CIO on the issue, added Suetholz, who represents the state AFL-CIO.

Meanwhile, Todd County attorney Harold Mac Johns doubts the county right to work measures will stand up in court.

“I think the state has pre-empted that” (locally enacted right to work ordinances), he told Hopkinsville radio WHOP. “It’s my hope that the county is not forced to expend any general fund resources to defend this.”

Johns also thinks the right to work ordinance is more of a political statement, according to the radio station.

So having failed to grab the House, the state GOP and its anti-union allies evidently went hunting for fiscal courts comprised of anti-union Republicans and like-minded conservative Democrats and encouraged them to pass local right to work ordinances.

The idea apparently was to make the ordinances appear to have bipartisan support. No doubt, too, the ordinances were timed to pressure the legislature, which has just convened. But it looks like hogs will fly before House Democrats cave on right to work.

“I think the recent attorney general’s opinion on this issue is crystal clear: Local communities cannot pass right-to-work legislation on their own,” said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who was Kentucky’s attorney general in 2003-2007.

“There is no mention of that authority in the law governing fiscal courts, and there is no way in the world we in the House will consider changing that. This initiative is being pushed by interests outside of Kentucky who only care about weakening our labor unions and cutting the wages of hardworking families.”

Anyway, I don’t know Johns. But if he’s an I-told-you-so kind of guy, I’d bet the farm his day is coming. It’s not a question of if the courts will overturn these ordinances, it’s when.

Berry Craig is recording secretary of the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council, a member of AFT Local 1360 and the webmaster/editor/chief writer for the Kentucky State AFL-CIO webpage: http://ky.aflcio.org/

‘Right to Work’ Agenda Defeated in Missouri

Bipartisan opposition leads to defeat of unnecessary and divisive national agenda of “Right to Work” and Paycheck deception legislation in 2014 Session

Time wasted on pointless attacks would be better spent on creating jobs and improving outcomes for Missourians.

RTWiswrongJEFFERSON CITY – As the closing bell rings on the 2014 Session, Missourians can be relieved that commonsense bipartisanship prevented two major attacks on Missouri workers from moving forward. “Right to Work” and paycheck deception bills were priorities of Missouri extremists and a small group of Washington D.C. lobbyists. Members of the We Are Missouri Coalition had this to say about the end of session:

“It is easy to be cynical about politics, but the true bipartisan effort that defeated “right to work” and paycheck deception this year is something Missourians can take to heart, said Mike Louis, Missouri AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer. “Members of both parties were willing to stand up to well-funded national groups pushing these unfair and pointless legislative attacks. Equally inspiring, thousands of working Missourians got involved and their handwritten letters, phone calls, emails and visits to Jefferson City had a big impact on their elected officials. Let’s hope that looking ahead, even more of our elected leaders are willing to stand up to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) agenda and listen to the people who live and work here in the Show Me State.”

Continue reading

STUDY: Missouri Workers Would Lose “Between $4.58 and $6 Billion Annually” Under ‘Right-to-Work’

by Chaz Bolte

cl_RTW_For_Less_NoD_271c8Rule one in the “Right-to-Work” implementation playbook is to tie its potential passage to an inevitable economic rebound.  Yet, history has shown that “Right-to-Work” is more of an economic slow bleed than a miracle maker.

As the Missouri state legislature prepares to debate the merits of becoming the 25th “Right-to-Work” state in the U.S., it is important for the general public to understand the ramifications of such a path. And a new report released Monday by University of Missouri-Kansas City professor Michael Kelsay helps with that very task, concluding that “Right-to-Work” laws would severely harm Missouri’s middle class workers.  The numbers for statewide income loss? In the billions. Continue reading

Workers’ Labor Needs to be Defined More in Terms of Property Rather than Commodities

Oren Levin -Waldman

Oren Levin -Waldman

When states pass right-to-work laws, they claim that they are creating working conditions conducive to choice. Workers can choose to join a union or not, but because these laws effectively bar closed shops workers are no longer coerced to join unions. Opponents of these laws point out the obvious: because unionization efforts have been made more difficult, the power of unions is diminished, and so too are the legitimate rights of workers. And yet, right-ro-work laws rest on a fundamental assumption which has long permeated American labor law. That is, employers have property rights while workers do not. Hence the asymmetrical balance of power between workers and their employers.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) which created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was so important when it was passed in 1935 because it called for collective-bargaining as a means to prevent labor strife and instability in labor markets. By threatening to strike, which was now legal, employers would be forced to bargain with their employees. Prior to passage of the NLRA, employers could easily assert their property rights and claim that unions and strikes were an infringement of those rights. The courts originally took the position that unions were illegal because they violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act by creating labor monopolies in restraint of free trade. Nobody would deny that they were monopolies, but institutional economists maintained that so long as workers had neither power nor property rights, they needed a measure of bargaining power that only unions and collective bargaining could afford them. Then when states attempted to pass maximum hours and minimum wage laws, which would effectively grant a measure of monopoly bargaining power to those not covered by collective bargaining agreements, the courts held them to be a violation of liberty of contract. Continue reading

Propelled By ALEC, ‘Right-to-Work’ Assault on Unions Reaches Pennsylvania

by Bruce Vail

Pennsylvania labor is primed for the fight: An April 11, 2011 Teamsters rally against previous right-to-work legislation drew some 400 protestors to the state Capitol.   (The Rick Smith Show / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Pennsylvania labor is primed for the fight: An April 11, 2011 Teamsters rally against previous right-to-work legislation drew some 400 protestors to the state Capitol. (The Rick Smith Show / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Backed by powerful national business interests, conservative legislators in Pennsylvania announced last week a new push to bring so-called “right-to-work” laws to the Keystone state. State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe said January 22 that he and five other Republican legislators would introduce a package of bills aimed at crippling the ability of labor unions to collect dues from members.

Pennsylvania labor leaders say the package is part of a broad assault on labor that began in 2010 when the GOP won control of the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature. Continue reading