West Virginia Democrats Drag Their Feet On Right-To-Work

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West Virginia Democrats managed to delay a Senate measure to ban mandatory union dues Thursday.

The state’s Republicans have made right-to-work a priority since securing the legislature in November 2014. The policy, which has passed in 25 states, outlaws mandatory union dues or fees as a condition of employment. West Virginia lawmakers wasted no time advancing the policy after the legislative session opened Jan. 13. Democrats, however, delayed the measure by debating it in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“This is simply a worker’s right to associate or not associate,” Republican Senate President Bill Cole told the local NBC affiliate. “A worker can say you know I’m not getting enough bang for my buck I don’t want to belong. And that’s all this is truly about.”

Cole explained the measure is not aimed to destroy unions like some critics have claimed. Rather, it would simply provide workers the option to join right-to-work. The argument is commonly used among supporters nationally and in other states. Critics warn that such a law will allow workers to free-ride off the benefits the unions negotiate.

“These are West Virginia workers,” West Virginia Teamsters President Ken Hall told the local affiliate of CBS. “They can spin it any way you like to. You can put lipstick and earnings on a pig, and it’s still a pig. These are West Virginia workers and they are mad as hell.”

State unions have been at the forefront of opposing the policy. The West Virginia AFL-CIO claimed in a recent radio ad that right-to-work will cause a 54 percent increase in workplace injury and can lower wages as much as $6,000 per year. Unions have also held numerous protests outside the capitol in the past few days.

Republican leadership believes the policy will help reverse the severe economic trouble the state experienced during the nearly 80 years of previous Democratic control. The state legislature commissioned West Virginia University to examine the policy. The school released a study in November disputing some of the union claims.

Their measure could make West Virginia the 26th state to enact the policy. Some other states like Kentucky are also debating whether to pass the policy. Republican lawmakers, though, are experiencing an internal problem threatening their chances of success.

Republican Sen. Daniel Hall resigned from his seat earlier this month, putting the party majority in dispute. Hall helped the Republicans take the majority in the Senate when he switched political parties in 2014.

The issue is whether a Republican or Democrat should take his spot. The West Virginia Democratic Party asserts his seat should be replaced with someone in their party since he was elected as a Democrat. The Supreme Court of Appeals in the state will hear arguments Tuesday on which party should take the open seat.

Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has said he is leaning towards appointing a Democrat unless the court decides otherwise. The court is set to hear oral arguments Tuesday.

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