In an Election Year, Republicans Welcome Debate on Right to Work Law

Jan 17, 2019

Since the 1940s, Virginia has imposed strong restrictions on labor unions.

Now those restrictions are at the center of a political debate in Richmond.

In the 1940s, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers announced it was planning a strike against the Virginia Electric Power and Light Company, an effort to get higher wages. The governor at the time responded by drafting all the union’s members into a Virginia militia and ordered them to continue their jobs. The next year he signed Virginia’s right to work law, preventing employers from compelling employees to pay union dues.

House minority leader, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, right, speaks with House speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, during a House session at the Capitol in Richmond.
Credit (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Now, Socialist Delegate Lee Carter of Prince William wants to undo right to work. “Despite the fancy name what it really is is giving scabs the right to freeload off of unions that working people fought hard for, and it’s time for us to get rid of this law that was designed specifically to bankrupt unions and disempower working people in the workplace,” Carter said.

Republican Delegate Terry Kilgore of Southwest Virginia says revoking right to work would be a terrible idea. “We support Virginia businesses. We support the right of workers not to, you know if they don’t want to they don’t have to join a union. But you do have a right to work.”

Republicans are taking unusual steps to send the bill to the House floor without having to vote in favor of the bill in committee, an election-year move to have a public debate about business and labor.  Once that debate is over, they're expected to vote to kill Carter's bill.

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