Coercive unionism is no longer the law of the land for the majority of the country after West Virginia lawmakers overrode Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s veto to become the 26th right to work state on Friday.
Delegate Gary Howell was among the leaders in the legislature to push right to work, which prevents employers from requiring union membership as a condition of employment, in the longtime labor stronghold. The veto override came as no surprise because West Virginia only requires a majority vote in the Republican-controlled legislature. The vote, he said, would help boost the lagging economy’s ability to attract employers.
"It’s going to move West Virginia in a position to grow our economy again," Howell told the Washington Free Beacon in a phone interview. "It’ll have a positive effect on job creation, especially with manufacturers. We build things here and have a lot of natural resources. We’re closer to the source of raw materials. It’ll be easier to create those jobs here. It makes us more competitive."
Tomblin vetoed the right to work law Thursday, calling the legislation unnecessary. He disputed the notion that passing such a law would help attract businesses to the state, which has been hit hard by the Great Recession, outsourcing, and federal crackdowns on the mining industry.
"I have never had a company cite right to work as a barrier to relocating to West Virginia. We do not lack prospects," he said in a veto statement. "Our issues are best addressed by improving our workforce and creating new development opportunities … I do not believe West Virginia needs a right-to-work law, a law that would lead to little if any economy growth and may lower the wages of West Virginia workers."
Howell said Tomblin’s claim is misleading.
"One of the reasons he never heard that is because the companies knew we weren’t right to work, so they never even knocked on the door," Howell said.
Republican State Sen. Craig Blair said that the override sends the message that West Virginia "is open for business again."
"We want people to create businesses in West Virginia," he said. "It levels the playing field. Right to work is not a panacea that solves everything. It’s another tool that we have for job creation and retention. We didn’t have that before."
Union watchdogs praised the veto override. Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, called the override a "tremendous victory" for workers since they would be able to opt out of forced association with unions and the dues they are forced to deduct from their paychecks.
"West Virginia’s adoption of a Right to Work law deals Big Labor’s forced unionism privileges another blow," Mix said in a release. "More than half of the states have enacted Right to Work laws to protect workers’ fundamental right to freedom of association by permitting every worker to choose for him or herself whether or not to join and financially support a labor union."
Mix said that the group will move on to bringing right to work laws to the remaining 24 states. The legislation has had a domino effect as state’s try to attract businesses. Michigan lawmakers cited Indiana’s decision to adopt the law as a catalyst for its passage in 2012. Oklahoma adopted the law in 2002 to catch up with other southern states that had already adopted the law.
"It is not the end of the work to be done. We hope West Virginia’s embrace of workplace freedom will help spur other states to join the Right to Work ranks," Mix said. "The National Right to Work Committee will continue to fight against forced unionism until no worker, anywhere in America, can be forced to pay union dues or fees just to get or keep a job."
Howell said that part of the reason West Virginia was eager to adopt right to work is that it gives the state a competitive advantage in the region. It competes for jobs with Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey, all of which still require coercive union membership. He says the adoption of the legislation will help them challenge neighboring right to work Virginia for jobs.
"The states that already have [right to work] have a higher average wage than West Virginia, so we have nowhere to go but up," Howell said.