West Virginia Record

Friday, April 10, 2020

Right-to-work, if you can get it

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By The West Virginia Record | Jan 7, 2020


Four years ago, West Virginia became the 26th right-to-work state in the nation when our Legislature overrode former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s veto of a bill prohibiting workers from being required to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.

The “Workplace Freedom Act,” scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2016, was challenged in court by representatives of the Teamsters, the West Virginia AFL-CIO, and other unions, who persuaded Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey to issue a preliminary injunction blocking its enforcement.

“If … employees can obtain the services of a union to negotiate and administer a contract without having to pay either union dues or the agency fees, they would – naturally and predictably – be seriously discouraged from joining a union,” Judge Bailey opined, by way of explaining her decision. 

Thank you, Captain Obvious!

It’s true. Unless compelled to do so, no one is going to pay for something he doesn’t want or can get for free, but what’s wrong with that?  Shouldn’t a judge know enough about the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments to affirm freedom of association and denounce involuntary servitude? Where does it say that the desires of unions can or should supersede the rights of workers?

Fortunately, our state Supreme Court reversed Bailey’s decision in 2017, dissolving the injunction and remanding the case back to Kanawha County, and the “Workplace Freedom Act” was eventually permitted to take effect. Or was it?

Legal challenges may have been overcome, but getting unions to abide by the law is another matter. Union defiance or foot-dragging compliance can make it difficult for non-union employees to enjoy their new-found freedom.

Take Donna Harper, for example. She had to file suit last month in Marion Circuit Court against the Chauffeurs, Teamsters & Helpers Union and the Tygart Center at Fairmont Campus for insisting that she join the union and pay dues and fees to keep her job as a laundry aide and certified nursing assistant.

Harper won’t be the last person forced to sue scofflaw unions and complicit employers.

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