Virginia State Capitol

Will a “Right-to-Work” Constitutional Amendment Help Workers or Business?

by | Nov 7, 2016 | Government

By Susan Larson.

Virginia has been a right-to-work state by law since 1947. That means workers cannot be forced to join a union as a condition of employment.

Supporters of the “Right-to-Work” ballot question say putting the law into the Virginia Constitution will help the state recruit and retain businesses.

“It makes it [the law] more secure,” said House Speaker Bill Howell, R–VA-28. “I think this shows the business community … that we are indeed serious about keeping the law.”

Repeal of a constitutional amendment is much harder than changing a law.

The Virginia General Assembly voted along party lines in February to put the measure on the November 8, 2016, ballot. Republicans were in favor, and Democrats were opposed. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) opposes the measure.

Opponents call the amendment proposal unnecessary at best, “dangerous” at worst.

“The proposed constitutional amendment, misleadingly titled “Right-to-Work,” creates more barriers for fair wages and interferes with the rights of hard working Virginians,” said Virginia Organizing
Board Chairperson Ladelle McWhorter.

“The amendment is designed to prevent workers from unionizing, and to dilute existing unions,” McWhorter said. “When union rights are limited, workers are not afforded protections that come from collective bargaining — protections like fair wages, insurance coverage, and healthy, safe working conditions. This amendment is dangerous, and only protects big businesses, not working Virginians.”

Virginia State Senator Bryce Reeves, R-VA-17, is encouraging a yes vote on the right-to-work amendment. “Right-to-Work protects the rights of employees who do not want to join a union, and encourages companies to relocate to Virginia,” said Reeves.

The Virginia AFL-CIO believes Amendment 1 is unnecessary, and a waste of time and money. “We oppose Amendment 1 for a whole slew of reasons, but most importantly because it has nothing to do with rights,” said Virginia AFL-CIO President Doris Crouse-Mays.

“Right-to-work laws are a misnomer,” Crouse-Mays said. “They do not guarantee anyone the right to have a job, nor do they guarantee any other workers’ rights. Federal law ensures that no one be forced to join a union –- not Virginia’s right to work statute.”

“Additionally, Virginia is an at-will employment state, which means anyone working in the Commonwealth is employed – and can be fired – at the will of their employers,” Crouse-Mays said. “Without the protections of a union contract, workers in Virginia actually have very few rights in the workplace.”

The right-to-work ballot question is one of two constitutional amendment questions on Virginia’s November 8, 2016, ballot. They are reprinted below:
#1 – Article I. Bill of Rights.
1 Section 11-A. Right to work.
Ballot Question
Question: Should Article I of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to prohibit any agreement or combination between an employer and a labor union or labor organization whereby (i) on members of the union or organization are denied the right to work for the employer, (ii) membership to the union or organization is made a condition of employment or continuation of employment by such employer, or (iii) the union or organization acquires an employment monopoly in any such enterprise?

#2 – Article X. Taxation and
Finance. Section 6-B. Property tax exemptions for spouses of certain emergency services providers.
Ballot Question
Question: Shall the Constitution of Virginia be amended to allow the General Assembly to provide an option to the localities to exempt from taxation the real property of the surviving spouse of any law-enforcement officer, firefighter, search and rescue personnel, or emergency medical services personnel who was killed in the line of duty, where the surviving spouse occupies the real property as his or her principal place of residence and has not remarried?

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