Terry McAuliffe Rakes in Big Labor Cash After Right To Work Flip-Flop

Virginia Dem takes $2.2 million from top unions after pledging to sign repeal of popular labor law

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe (D.) / Getty Images
July 20, 2021

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe raked in millions of dollars from Big Labor after he vowed to sign a bill repealing the state's popular right-to-work law, a policy he once said should "never change."

Nearly 30 percent of McAuliffe's June fundraising haul—roughly $2.2 million—came from a slew of the nation's largest labor unions, the Democrat's most recent campaign finance report shows. The contributions began rolling in just weeks after McAuliffe pledged to sign a bill reversing Virginia's right-to-work law, which prohibits companies from requiring workers to pay union dues.

"If it came to my desk, sure I'd sign it," McAuliffe said in April after touting his status as the candidate with the "most international union support."

The assurance contradicts McAuliffe's unabashed praise for right to work during his first gubernatorial campaign. McAuliffe ran as a "moderate, pro-business Democrat" and repeatedly expressed his support for "keeping Virginia as a right-to-work state," going as far as to say the policy should never be repealed.

"We are a great right-to-work state. We should never change that," McAuliffe said in 2013. "It helps us do what we need to do to grow our businesses here in Virginia. I think it's very important."

McAuliffe's Big Labor donors include the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Service Employees International Union, and National Education Association, all of which combined to give the Democrat $1.3 million. The National Education Association's $400,000 contribution came one week after president Becky Pringle said the union's educators "are not going to be afraid" to teach critical race theory in schools, as "we know that to not teach it, we are not telling the truth." McAuliffe in June called critical race theory a "right-wing conspiracy … totally made up by Donald Trump."

McAuliffe did not return a request for comment.

Virginia adopted its right-to-work law in 1947, and the policy remains popular in the state. In a July Forbes Tate Partners poll, 72 percent of Virginia voters said they are concerned about ending the state's right-to-work status. Some Virginia Democrats have responded by distancing themselves from efforts to repeal the law. Mark Warner, for example, is one of just three Senate Democrats who have not backed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which would nullify right-to-work laws across the country.

CNBC ranked Virginia number one in its 2021 "Top States for Business" list, which uses right-to-work status as a factor. As governor, McAuliffe touted the state's pro-business environment in a 2017 letter to Amazon, writing that "in Virginia, we put corporate partners first." Amazon announced its decision to house its second corporate headquarters in Virginia in 2017, and McAuliffe defended the deal from progressive criticism during a May primary debate.

"We're lifting up families," McAuliffe said. "That's what the governor is supposed to do."

In addition to right to work, McAuliffe has seemingly shifted left on foreign policy during his second run for governor. The Democrat in June embraced the support of an activist group that staunchly defends the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which McAuliffe condemned in 2017. The group, Emgage Action, calls support for "the right to boycott" a "key part" of its endorsement process.

"It's sad but unfortunately not unexpected to see Terry McAuliffe sell out Virginia workers and the state's economy for his Big Labor patrons," National Right to Work Committee vice president John Kalb told the Washington Free Beacon.

The generous labor contributions helped McAuliffe outraise GOP opponent Glenn Youngkin, who brought in $3.6 million in June to McAuliffe's $7.5 million. The pair will face off in November.