CHARLESTON — The state Supreme Court opened its fall term on Sept. 5 by hearing arguments in a high-profile case.
The justices heard arguments related to West Virginia’s right to work law, The West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act. Last year, the state Legislature became one of 28 states to enact a right to work law.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey filed a legal challenge to a February injunction issued by Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey. That followed a challenge of the law by state labor unions.
The unions argue union dues are necessary to allow unions to enter into collective bargaining for both member and nonmember employees.
Morrisey wants the justices to vacate a preliminary injunction entered by Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey, who ruled in favor of the labor unions. The AG’s office argues that a union’s right to associate cannot compel a non-member to support the union’s activities.
The legislature passed the bill in February 2016 and then voted to override a veto by then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
During the Sept. 5 arguments, Justice Margaret Workman wondered why Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office was arguing the case before the Supreme Court.
“I just think you all are taking a shortcut coming up here wanting all of the answers without the lower court having made any substantive ruling on a lot of issues,” Workman said to Deputy Solicitor General Tom Johnson during his presentation. “This is the appeal of the granting of the temporary injunction, nothing more.
“There ought to be a decision on these substantive issues by the circuit court.”
The unions say the law would harm them by allowing non-members to benefit from collective bargaining while not having to pay union dues.
“It would invite freeloaders,” attorney Bob Battress said during arguments. “Workers could ask, ‘Why should I pay for services that I could get for free?'”
After the arguments, Morrisey said he felt good about his team’s chances.
“Today my office vigorously defended the Workplace Freedom Act,” he said. “We believe this is plainly constitutional legislation. Courts have repeatedly upheld similar laws, and we remain hopeful the court will agree with our arguments.”
West Virginia AFL-CIO President Josh Sword disagreed.
“It is our hope that the Supreme Court justices will allow the temporary injunction to remain in place so that Judge Bailey can take the time she needs to make a determination,” he said in a statement. “Our contention remains as strong as it was the day we filed this lawsuit in 2016 that this law is an unconstitutional taking of property rights from local unions and their members.
“When a majority of employees in a workplace, through a democratic process, vote to unionize, federal law requires unions to provide services to all employees, whether or not they choose to participate in that union. This is nothing more than an attempt from out-of-state billionaires to destroy labor organizations in West Virginia.
“And quite frankly, I’m tired of these out-of-staters telling us what we can and can’t do.”