West Virginia may well become the next right-to-work state. Bill Cole — the state-Senate president and probable GOP gubernatorial nominee — has made passing right-to-work legislation a top priority. However, Cole didn’t bring it up for hearings or a vote in this year’s legislative session. At the time, liberal groups celebrated the fact that right-to-work was bumped from the agenda.
That changed Sunday. The West Virginia legislature held an out-of-session hearing on right-to-work. Witnesses testified that making union dues voluntary attracts jobs and investment, tends to reduce union membership, and has little effect on wages.
Since the legislature is out of session, the committee could only take testimony. Yet it seems almost certain the legislature will put right-to-work on its agenda when it reconvenes in January.
Supporters have good reasons to hope for passage. Republicans in the state have long argued for right-to-work legislation. Last year, the GOP took control of both houses of the legislature (for the first time in more than 80 years). The governor opposes it, but in West Virginia a majority vote overrides his veto.
West Virginia passing right-to-work legislation would be momentous in several ways. The Mountain State would become the 26th right-to-work state in America. For the first time since the National Labor Relations Act passed, a majority of states would protect workers from compulsory union dues.
West Virginia also has a long history of pro-union sentiment. But union members themselves oppose compulsory dues. One poll found that 80 percent of union members think that paying union dues should be the workers’ choice. West Virginia voters favor right-to-work by an almost three-to-one margin.
This is why politicians who have embraced right-to-work have thrived. Voters — many of whom are rank-and-file union members — like it. After Michigan became a right-to-work state, union executives vowed to defeat the legislators who passed it. Their members ignored the memo. In the next election, not one Michigan legislator who voted for right-to-work lost in the general election (one did lose in the primary to a more conservative challenger).
Opposition to right-to-work comes principally from union executives. They want to continue forcing workers to pay their salaries and support a political lobbying effort that overwhelmingly favors liberal causes that have very little to do with improving the lot of the average union member.
That argument doesn’t go very far anymore — even in pro-union states such as West Virginia.