The Corner

In Virginia, Opposition to Public-Sector Collective Bargaining Is Bipartisan

Gov. Doug Wilder of the Commonwealth of Virginia signed into law HB1872 and SB 962, which prohibited collective bargaining by government employees in Virginia. This was an outright ban, one of the strongest in the nation. When it passed there were no riots, no massive protests, no members of the legislature who fled the state. Instead there was overwhelming bipartisan support from a Democrat-run House, which voted 78–21 in favor of the bill, and a Democrat-run Senate, which voted 36–3 in favor. Only 20 House Democrats and one House Republican opposed the bill and only two Senate Democrats and one Senate Republican did so.

None of these legislators received death threats for supporting a bill that was far more comprehensive than the bill passed in Wisconsin. The Virginia bill doesn’t bar public employees from forming associations, but it doesn’t allow anyone to be forced into a union or be forced to pay union dues. The 1993 ban on collective bargaining was uneventful and also consistent with the views of Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who said:

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people.

So how bizarre and incongruous is it that 18 years later, those who are in agreement with Governor Wilder, the first African American elected governor of Virginia, and President Roosevelt are being accused of violating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

Mark April 4, 2011, as another “jump the shark” day for the AFL-CIO. This week, on the 43rd anniversary of King’s assassination, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka chose to hijack this somber anniversary in an attempt to tie Dr. King’s death to those who oppose collective bargaining. As reported by the Examiner, Trumka claimed in a recent speech that, “April 4 (is) the day on which Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life for the cause of public collective bargaining.” Trumka and the AFL-CIO staged events across the country claiming those opposing collective bargaining are “trying to take away the rights Dr. King gave his life for.” Trumka also claims that opponents of collective bargaining are “right-wing corporate politicians.”

Right-wing corporate politicians? Really? Progressive Democratic governor Doug Wilder? Franklin Roosevelt?

In 2008, a liberal Democratic delegate from northern Virginia filed a bill, HB 852, which would have repealed provisions of Virginia’s law prohibiting public-sector collective bargaining. The bill had no co-sponsors. And when the Republican majority decided to give Democrats the opportunity to demonstrate their support for the bill by bringing it to the floor for a vote, Democrats simply refused to vote for it. Unlike their Wisconsin counterparts, Virginia Democrats simply sat at their desks in the legislature and refused to vote for the bill, on instructions from the minority leader, who didn’t want to put his members on record undermining Virginia’s ban on public-sector collective bargaining. The sponsor of the bill actually moved to strike his own bill.

So what does Richard Trumka have to say about this? If opposition to collective bargaining for government workers is a violation of Dr. King’s legacy and anathema to the AFL-CIO, then why has the AFL-CIO continued to provide the Virginia Democratic party money and support, and given Democrats who oppose it top ratings and top dollar?#more#

The hypocrisy and the double standards are transparent. It is apparently okay for Democrats to oppose public-sector collective bargaining, but Republicans can expect vitriolic, over-the-top accusations, and even death threats. This is not about policy; this is raw and desperate partisan politics from Trumka and other union bosses who are desperate for more union dues to solidify their power and dole out more campaign cash from those dues.

One thing is for certain. This has nothing to do with the non-violent legacy of Dr. King. This is the same Richard Trumka who had his start as president of the United Mine Workers, where he led multiple violent strikes that led a Virginia judge in 1989 to write that “violent activities are being organized, orchestrated and encouraged by the leadership of this union.” This is the same Richard Trumka who brags about giving daily advice to the White House, and the same Richard Trumka who, invited by Nancy Pelosi, this week told a closed-door meeting of her caucus that to win in 2012 Democrats need to keep Wisconsin-like protests going.

The 2008 Virginia vote demonstrates that reasonable people can disagree on public-sector collective bargaining. It is not and should not be a partisan issue. It should be an issue of what works and what doesn’t.

Virginia’s ban on public-sector collective bargaining, along with its strong right-to-work law, low taxes, and business-friendly environment, allows the Commonwealth to lead the country in job creation, attracting jobs from around the nation and world. Virginia’s unemployment rate, 6.6 percent, is well below the national average and this year the legislature passed major jobs, transportation, and education initiatives while balancing the budget at 2006 spending levels. The final budget passed unanimously and included no tax increases.

I would match the record of the Commonwealth of Virginia against any state where Richard Trumka has imposed his agenda — Michigan, Illinois, California. If he truly cared about jobs rather than political power, he’d take a look at the Virginia model instead of engaging in cheap political stunts.

— Barbara Comstock is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. She also is a spokesperson for the Workforce Fairness Institute.

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