CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Republican legislative leaders are making right to work legislation a top priority for the 2016 Regular Legislative Session. The first bill introduced in the state Senate on Wednesday was the one written to make West Virginia a right to work state.
“We have a responsibility to put West Virginia in line with so many other states that are creating jobs, hope, growth and opportunity,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson, 04).
Proponents, like Carmichael, have argued that such legislation will help West Virginia’s economy in many ways, but a resident of Oklahoma says that was not the case in his state.
Oklahoma passed a right to work law in 2001. Five years later, Jesse Isbell from Oklahoma City lost his job of 36 years at the Bridgestone Tire Plant when the work there was moved from Oklahoma City to Mexico.
“In my case and in the case of 1,400 brothers and sisters at that facility, the law did not work as advertised,” Isbell said Wednesday at the State Capitol. “There’s absolutely no anecdotal or empirical evidence that right to work has benefited the Oklahoma state economy in any way. The truth is that it has driven down wages.”
Opponents of the legislation in West Virginia echo Isbell’s claims. They’ve called right to work “destructive” legislation that, in their views, would clear the way for lower wages and the weakening of work protections.
Among those opponents is Kenny Perdue, president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, who’s said the proposed legislation is an “attack on unions” and will be “harmful to West Virginia families.”
More than two dozen other states already have right to work laws.
In general, the West Virginia bill would prohibit any requirement that a person become or remain a member of a labor organization as a condition of employment; prohibit a requirement that any dues or fees be paid to a labor organization and prohibit any requirement that a person contribute to a charity instead of paying dues or other fees to a labor organization.
Since Oklahoma passed right to work in 2001, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the number of manufacturing jobs in the state has fallen by a third while the number of new companies moving into the state has also declined by a third.
As opposed to moving forward with right to work legislation, Isbell suggested that West Virginia’s lawmakers refocus their efforts on education and workforce development.
“If Oklahoma would have taken this approach ten years ago instead the disastrous right to work route, I wouldn’t be talking to you here today. I’d be working at the Bridgestone Firestone plant in Oklahoma City,” Isbell said.
On Wednesday night, prior to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s State of the State Address, hundreds of Teamsters and other union members from across West Virginia were scheduled to rally against passage of a right to work law at the State Capitol.