For more than 70 years, Virginians have had the right to decide whether to join a union. Each employee gets to decide whether to pay an average of $750 a year in private-sector union dues. Neither an employer nor a union that a worker has declined to join can require payment as a condition of employment. This common-sense, business-friendly policy is part of why Virginia has been No. 1 for business in Democratic and Republican administrations alike. It is why governors from both parties have defended and promoted it. Right-to-work is good for Virginia.
Yet a bill proposed by the new state Senate majority leader, Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax), would gut right-to-work and end long-standing bipartisan support for Virginia businesses.
While cleverly named, Saslaw’s “fair share fee” is nothing more than compulsory union dues in disguise. And there is nothing “fair” about forcing people to part with their pay against their will.
Proponents claim the fee will compensate unions for the “fair” cost of representing non-dues paying members. But who decides what’s fair? The union, of course! That’s a classic conflict of interest.
If the bill becomes law, unions will be able to charge for “the cost of all activities germane to collective bargaining, administration, and enforcement of collective bargaining agreements … and labor union or labor organization governance and administration.” That’s a big payoff to union bosses that will come right out of the paychecks of thousands of employees who have opted out of a union.
Unions have not always been responsible, transparent stewards of these funds elsewhere. In Pennsylvania last year, a union leader was charged with using union funds to bribe local government officials and pay for work on his own home and personal expenses. Elsewhere, senior union officials with the United Auto Workers were charged with misallocating hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds designated to help train workers. They are accused of spending the money on golf equipment, clothes, cigars, wine, champagne, high-end meals and even villas with pools.
In states without right-to-work, an employee who thinks that unions are misspending money is out of luck. Mandatory union dues, deducted from an employee’s paycheck, become a condition of employment. Those who refuse to comply either get fired or never get hired in the first place.
Repealing the right-to-work statute does not make economic sense either. The Virginia Economic Development Partnership website, in a section entitled, “Why Virginia,” boasts that Virginia is “the northern-most right-to-work state on the East Coast” and “consistently ranked as one of the nation’s top states to do business.”
Over the past few years, states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and even West Virginia have adopted right-to-work laws after years of stagnating state economies. Studies show that right-to-work states have job growth that is twice the rate of those without this status over the past decade — explaining why such a diversity of states moved into the right-to-work column. Mangum Economics, in conjunction with the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, estimates repealing right-to-work would cost Virginia’s economy more than $1 billion annually. That means reducing the number of quality jobs in the commonwealth, limiting upward mobility and hurting everyday Virginians.
Right-to-work has endured for more than 70 years because it has brought prosperity to Virginia. That’s also why it has enjoyed bipartisan support. We are both Republicans who served in the General Assembly. We proudly supported this and other policies that attracted jobs, boosted innovation and led to higher wages for all Virginians. Former governor Doug Wilder, a Democrat, signed the 1993 law banning public-sector collective bargaining in the commonwealth. Gov. Ralph Northam and former governor Terry McAuliffe, both Democrats, have spoken in defense of these policies. Even Saslaw, as recently as last fall, said that our right-to-work law was “not going to disappear.”
Rather than kowtowing to special interests, let’s preserve the bipartisan commitment to build a more prosperous future for all Virginians. It has served our commonwealth well.