Virginia’s only socialist lawmaker is pushing longshot legislation that would undo 71-year-old “right-to-work” laws.
The laws restrict unions’ ability to collect dues from non-union members in workplaces with both types of workers. Democratic Delegate Lee Carter’s bill would reverse those restrictions.
“Those unions are being taken advantage of by people who want to reap all the benefits but don't want to contribute anything towards getting those benefits,” Carter said in an interview with WCVE.
The bill faces long odds in the Republican-controlled legislature. Even Democrats have been reluctant to take it on; then-House minority leader David Toscano argued in 2016 against a right to work Constitutional amendment by saying “there is no pressing need” for action since the issue “has never been seriously questioned.”
Virginia Chamber of Commerce president Barry DuVal said the existing law reduced “burdensome requirements on workers and companies,” and warned that any changes “may cause existing employers to move facilities to surrounding states with more favorable business climates.”
And Nicole Riley, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said Carter’s freeloader argument didn’t hold water.
“All of us should have to make a case on whether they want to join our organizations, or join a group,” Riley said. “It shouldn’t just be a requirement of your job that you have to.”
But Carter points to voters’ rejection of the right to work Constitutional amendment as proof of its value.
“It's common sense among working people that we should be able to stick up for ourselves and we should be able to determine our own destiny, rather than having it be determined for us by the people with the most money,” he said. “It only seems new because there's somebody talking about it.”
Right to work laws went on the books in 1947, when Governor William Tuck advocated checking unions’ clout.
The governor was upset over a threatened strike in 1946 against the Virginia Electric and Power Company, a precursor to today’s Dominion Energy. Tuck threatened to seize the plants, draft workers into an “unorganized militia,” and force them back to work.
“Labor unions have served a useful purpose in our economy,” Tuck told the General Assembly in a January 1947 address to the legislature. “But if our system of government, with all its blessings, is to survive, the existing economic dictatorship imposed by ruthless union dictators must be curbed.”
Senator Lloyd Robinette, a rare critic of the plans, warned in floor debates that “labor is made the whipping boy of this legislation,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported at the time.