CHARLESTON, W.Va. With the gallery packed with union members, the state Senate approved the controversial right to work bill along party lines following a debate that lasted for more than an hour Thursday.
The measure, called the Workplace Freedom Act, would make it illegal to connect a workers’ employment to union membership or require dues and fees connected with a union.
Opponents of the measure, like Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) called the bill, the freeloader bill, because, Kessler said, workers will be able to enjoy the benefits of a union without joining.
“Who can be against workplace freedom? We’re all for freedom? But this bill, I submit, the word free is accurate in describing it, but I would call it more of a freeloader bill,” Kessler said.
That description brought a response from Senator Robert Karnes (R-Upshur) who called out the union members watching the debate.
“People who support right to work are out working, the free riders are right up there,” Karnes said pointing to the gallery.
The union members began booing and one yelled, “We’re paying your bill buddy,” before Senate President Bill Cole gaveled the chamber back into order.
West Virginia needs right to work to make it more attractive to business interests, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Trump (R-Morgan) said.
“There are companies that we can’t get in the door with because we lack this law,” Trump said.
The Senate debate kept going back to the impact right to work would have on the state’s labor movement. The two cannot be separated, Senator Doug Facemire (D-Braxton).
“What we’re witnessing here today is the dismantling of the working class of this state and these United States and I certainly apologize to you people (union members in the gallery) for that,” Facemire said.
But with a state that leads the nation in unemployment and the lack of workforce participation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson) told fellow senators there’s no reason not to pass the bill.
“This does not prevent anyone from joining a union, does not prevent anyone from paying union dues. Does not outlaw collective bargaining. What is the problem with this bill?”
The measure now goes to the House of Delegates for consideration.