Earlier this year, on February 12th, the West Virginia Legislature overrode Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s veto and passed the highly polarizing West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act. By an 18-16 party line vote in the West Virginia Senate and a 54-43 vote in the West Virginia House of Delegates, West Virginia became the 26th state to pass this type of law. More commonly known as the “Right to Work Law,” this piece of legislation sparks fierce political debate from both sides of the aisle. One side sees the legislation as a way to destroy labor unions, while the other side sees the legislation as a job creator. But, what does this law do, and how will it affect the citizens of West Virginia? The full text of the law can be found here.
The core effect of the Act is a prohibition on labor union security agreements. These agreements between employers and labor unions require that all employees join a labor union and pay dues in order to be eligible to work for that employer. In the most basic of terms, prospective employees cannot be forced to join a labor union as a condition of employment. In addition, labor unions must still represent all employees of a company, even the ones who decide not to become labor union members and pay dues.
The key provisions of the Act are as follows: (i) Employers and labor unions can no longer make contracts that condition employment upon union membership or that requires non-labor union members to pay union dues. (ii) Employees cannot be required to join a labor union within a certain time period following the commencement of their employment as a condition of continued employment. (iii) Employees who are members of a labor union cannot be compelled to remain labor union members as a condition of continued employment. (vi) Employees who are not members of a labor union cannot be required to pay a fee to a labor union as a condition of continued employment. (v) Violators of the law are guilty of a criminal misdemeanor which will result in fines ranging from $500 to $5,000 with each day in which a violation occurs considered a separate offense.
The bottom line that West Virginians should take away from the West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act is . . . actually not clear at the moment. On August 10th of this year, Kanawha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey granted a preliminary injunction against the “Right to Work” law just a few short weeks after the law went into effect. Consequently, the status of the West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act is unclear and will be until the issue is further adjudicated. Although Judge Bailey vowed to streamline the case moving forward and hoped to have the issue resolved within 60 to 90 days, the citizens of West Virginia are still without resolution to this issue. Only one thing is for sure in the “Right to Work” saga, both sides will fight vehemently for their point of view. Hopefully, before we ring in 2017, a final decision will be reached in this matter.
A well-written breakdown of the controversy can be found on the West Virginia Education Association's blog here. DISCLAIMER: We do not affiliate, endorse, or verify the accuracy of WVEA's blog post-analysis.
Joshua T. Thompson
Steven S. Wolfe