Disputed WV Senate Seat Could End Right-To-Work Hopes

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A West Virginia bill designed to end mandatory union dues could be at the mercy of a hearing Tuesday to determine what party should fill an empty state Senate seat.

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals heard arguments from both parties to determine which side should fill the vacancy. Republican Sen. Daniel Hall left the empty seat Jan. 3 when he resigned. Without the seat Republicans lose the majority needed to pass right-to-work. Hall left as a Republican but was voted in as a Democrat.

“I think a Democrat should be appointed,” Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “He made a personal decision when he changed parties.”

Kessler adds constituents clearly voted in a Democrat and their wishes should be respected. Hall helped the Republicans secure a majority when he switched parties in 2014. An equal split makes right-to-work far less likely to succeed. The policy, which has passed in 25 states, outlaws mandatory union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Republicans made it a priority after securing the legislature in November 2014.

“The clerk will likely decide based on the plain language of the statute,” F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, told TheDCNF. “The seat should go to the party which held it last.”

Republicans introduced the measure Jan. 13 on the first day of the 60 day legislative session. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed it Jan. 15 with a 9 to 8 vote. Republicans believe the policy will help reverse nearly 80 years of economic trouble the state experienced under previous Democratic control. Critics dispute the claim by noting it will actually hurt workers in the state.

The West Virginia AFL-CIO stated 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 week. The state legislature commissioned West Virginia University to examine the policy. The school released a study in November disputing some of the union claims.

“They’re using the same old arguments,” Vernuccio noted. “West Virginia is already low on workplace safety. Right-to-work states outpace them.”

Vernuccio also disputed claims the policy lowers wages. Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has received lists from both parties of people he should fill the vacancy with. Tomblin has said he is leaning towards appointing a Democrat unless the court decides otherwise. A decision could take days or even possibly weeks.

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