CHARLESTON, W.Va. –– Those on each side of the Workplace Freedom Act are dug in on their positions. Members of the House heard remarks from the public on the legislation which has already won approval in the state Senate.
The “Right to Work” legislation as it is often called is vehemently opposed by organized labor, but supported by industry and business.
The measure would disallow a prospective employee from being forced to join a union as a condition of employment.
“Workers should fundamentally have the right to join and be associated with any private organization which they like or to NOT join any organization they like,” said speaker Keith Pauley. “We would never allow an employer to require joining other private organizations, like the Catholic Church, or the Boy Scouts, or the Red Cross, as a condition of their employment.”
Union leaders however were vocal in their opposition. Chad Francis, a member of the United Mine Workers, read a statement into the record from UMWA President Cecil Roberts.
Francis told the panel the union’s members and even those who are not members of a union have benefited from union contracts.
“Because of the contracts we’ve negotiated, working Americans enjoy and eight hour work day, 40 hour work week, health care benefits, retirement benefits, better education for our kids, and safer and more secure jobs,” he said.
But Francis added the Right to Work legislation is a return to the days when the union first gained a foothold and will cost a lot of ground many have fought to gain for generations.
“This legislation is about taking away people’s rights,” he said. “It’s about taking away the power workers collectively have. It’s about taking us back to a day when a few powerful elites had much and the rest of us had very little.”
Supporters of the legislation have based much of their grounds for backing the bill on a study done by West Virginia University Professor John Deskins. The report from Dr. Deskins largely indicated the Right to Work legislation would not cost jobs or lower wages. However, union leaders believe the Deskins report was filled with bad information.
Teamsters International General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall has railed against the bill from its inception. He issued an angry address during the public hearing in which he called out lawmakers and WVU.
“It is time we get down to talking about what the truth is,” Hall said. “Contrary to what I hear, the funding for this was provided by the West Virginia Legislature. The opinions herein are those of the author. This is one professor.”
Hall claimed if they would say so, he believed other professors would disagree with Dr. Deskins’ claims.
“Let’s have a serious discussion and one that is not an attack on unions,” said Hall. “The most disgraceful thing I’ve heard in 40 years is when Senator Karnes called these hard working people ‘freeloaders.’ It’s time to have a real discussion of our right to work.”
Hall referred to remarks on the floor from Senator Robert Karnes of Upshur County during the floor debate on the Workplace Freedom Act in the Senate.
Still others back the bill and believe it will clear the way for improved job numbers in West Virginia. Darrell Shull, with the Eastern Panhandle Business Association, remarked the legislation would help fuel the growth and economic engine of the panhandle.
“The state of West Virginia has been doing things the same way for over 80 years,” he said. “So for three generations we’ve been doing the same thing for the sake of not wanting to try something new. Well, it’s time to try something new.”
The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 18-16 and is expected to be taken up Friday in the House Judiciary Committee.