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McAuliffe Not Saying Much About Right to Work... For Now

AP Photo / Andrew Harnik

Labor groups across Virginia are hoping that Virginia joins other states in ditching its controversial right-to-work law, which prevents employers from compelling employees to pay union dues.

Virginia's right to work law dates back to the 1940’s, a time when Democrats who ran Virginia wanted to make sure unions didn’t disrupt people's access to power with a strike. Those rules prohibiting employers from compelling employees to pay union dues have long been the target of labor groups. But don't expect former Governor Terry McAuliffe to lead the cheering section for repeal.

“Do you think it's a waste of time to talk about what you might do if that bill lands on your desk," asks reporter Michael Pope.

"Listen," responds McAuliffe. "I've said all along I'm going to focus on the things that I can actually get done."

Bills repealing the right to work has been considered in the General Assembly before, but they couldn’t get the support of moderate Democrats.  But with the state Senate up for re-election in 2023, a more progressive General Assembly might put a bill repealing right to work on his desk in year three or four of his term — if he's elected. But McAuliffe, for now, says repealing right to work is not really part of the discussion.

"Right to work cannot get out of the Senate. It can't get out of committee. It actually got to the House and was defeated 85 to 13," McAuliffe explains. "So what I'm going to spend my time focused on are things I can get done. I want to see the minimum wage 15 bucks by 2024. I want paid sick leave. I want family and medical leave. And I want paid hazard pay."

McAuliffe says he’s focused on the home health care workers who are paid $7.25 an hour. He says that’s disgraceful, and he says he’ll fix that if he’s elected governor. But as for the question about what would happen if a future General Assembly puts a right to work repeal on McAuliffe's desk... That question remains unanswered.

**Editor's Note: In a previous setting, McAuliffe said he would sign the bill if it got to his desk. But when our reporter asked him if he would sign it, McAuliffe did not answer the question.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.