If you are anything like me, you can get a glimpse of what is important to your community by following memes on social media. With the State legislature in session, one theme I see popping up on my feed is Right to Work (RTW) legislation. I did not know exactly what Right to Work is, but I knew it had something to do with unions. What knowledge I have on unions comes from my education in HR Management and not from personal experience, despite having worked in a wide variety of industries including retail, finance and government.
I attended a Concerned Citizens Forum hosted by the Central Labor Council. There I learned that RTW States eliminate the concept of “fair share” which means that any employee in a union shop who choose not to be a member of the union are still required to pay a representational fee to the union for negotiation and representation. This is based on the premise that all union negotiations benefit all employees and not only union members. Not all employers in West Virginia are union shops, as WV is a “free bargaining” state, meaning that each employer is able to negotiate with the union on the existence or amount of fair share.
The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has taken a hard stance in favor of RTW legislation and hopes a supportive bill will clear both houses and be signed into law this session. The Chamber argues that RTW legislation will make West Virginia a better business climate and allow workers more choices.
Each side of the coin have, as expected, provided statistics that support their cause. Union supporters claim that RTW states have lower wages, $6,000 less per household, annually. RTW work effects more than the bottom line, union supporters claim, citing that workplace deaths are 54% higher in RTW states, employer-provided health insurance is less available and less comprehensive and 24% more fair share employees are likely to enjoy employer-provided pension.
The Chamber and other RTW proponents argue that West Virginia is 49th in the nation in terms of per capita income, despite a long history of unionization, and that RTW legislation will help lower unemployment rates by attracting businesses. Historically West Virginia has pursued policies that are not friendly to the working class or business, and they believe it is time to try something different.
I write this article, not in an attempt to convince anyone to feel one way or another, but simply to inform our readers of what is happening at the State level. State legislature often fails to recognize that some laws in WV are not “one size fits all.” RTW legislation might be helpful in the failing coal fields, but it may be harmful in the Eastern Panhandle, where cost of living is based on the higher wages of DC commuters. Even though we do not all earn those wages, we must all pay the higher price of goods and services.
What is your thought on Right to Work legislation?
If you need further information, consider these resources:
The AFLCIO is a Federation of Labor Organizations and contains a vast amount of information about unions, worker issues and state legislation regarding right to work and other areas of interest to workers.
The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, alternatively, represents business in West Virginia, private sector employers and works to create a more business friendly environment to benefit all West Virginians.
(Photo Credit: Nicholas Trietsch)