CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia is on its way to becoming one of the more than two dozen states that have a right to work law following a marathon debate and a close vote Thursday afternoon in the House of Delegates that mainly focused on the labor movement and its future.
The House approved the bill (SB 1) called the West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act on a 54-46 vote following nearly five hours of debate.
The bill reads “a person may not be required as a condition or continuation of employment to 1) become or remain a member of a labor organization, 2) pay any dues, fees, assessments or similar charges, however denominated of any kind or amount to any labor organization, 3) to pay any charity or third party in lieu of those payments any amount that is equivalent to dues, assessments or other charges required of members of a labor organization.”
Violation of the provisions could result in criminal penalty against the employer; conviction carries a fine from $500 to $5,000.
The debate was long and emotional with House Speaker Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha) pounding his gavel several times admonishing the pro-union crowd in the chamber gallery to come to order.
Much of the debate was spent with delegates sharing personal stories.
Del. Amy Summers (R-Taylor) told a story about a nurse who crossed the picket line at a hospital to help a pregnant woman. She said the union there retaliated against the worker. She said that nurse should have had a choice.
“As a nurse it is our joy and professional duty to care for people. Why in this day and age should we have to pay dues to a union that does not share the same values as we do?” Summers asked.
Most of the opponents of the bill questioned the need for the legislation.
“We’re passing bills that are wanted. They’re not needed but they’re wanted,” Del. Nancy Guthrie (D-Kanawha) said. “I don’t want them. I think this Democratic minority doesn’t want them either.”
The debate turned personal and political.
“There is a difference between politics and policy,” Del. Justin Marcum (D-Mingo) said. “This is politics. This ain’t policy.”
But proponents argued unions, which make up 10 percent of the state’s workforce will survive, but the bill is about giving workers a choice.
“Let’s trust these people. Let’s trust these people to make the right decision for them and their families,” Del. Michael Ihle (R-Jackson) said.
Del. Shawn Fluharty (D-Wheeling) said the unions have fought long and hard for what they have and it shouldn’t be taken away,
“You deserve the right to earn a living. You deserve the right to collectively bargain. You deserve to have a chance and a voice and we should not be taking it from you,” Fluharty said.
One only needs to look at job losses in the state over the years, House Judiciary Committee Chair John Shott (R-Mercer) said.
“We have to change. We are going down the tubes fast,” Shott said.
The House made a change to the Senate’s bill so before it goes to the governor the Senate would have to agree to the changes. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has already said he’ll veto the bill, releasing a statement early Thursday evening.
“I remain committed to growing West Virginia’s economy, but I do not believe right-to-work legislation is the best way to do that. We can continue to improve our state’s business climate by strengthening our workforce, combating substance abuse and creating new sites for development, all of which continue to be his top priorities in the coming year. I have submitted proposals to address these issues, and I urge the Legislature to consider them during the session,” the governor said. “I will veto the legislation passed today, which received bipartisan opposition but only partisan support.”