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Bright Spot: On Tuesday, VA Rejected a Uniquely Oppressive Eternal “Right-to-Work” Amendment

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In one of the lone bright spots for the labor community on election night, Virginia voters rejected an amendment that would have enshrined the commonwealth’s “right-to-work” status in the state constitution. Virginia has had such a law since 1947, but the ballot measure would have made the law permanent, a uniquely oppressive concept:

Those who pushed the amendment claimed it would make Virginia more attractive to employers, who wouldn’t have to worry about the state repealing its right-to-work law (if they ever worried about that in the first place).

Backers of the amendment may have feared that, as Virginia creeps bluer and bluer, a Democratic-controlled statehouse could one day repeal its right-to-work status. But that seems unlikely…Once a state goes right-to-work, it tends to stay that way ― especially when it’s the long-standing tradition in a place like Virginia.

“Right-to-work” laws are more popular than ever now. In the last half-decade, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and West Virginia have all adopted some version of the law. That brings the grand total of right-to-work states to 26.

Given the current climate, union groups fought particularly hard to stop this amendment from passing:

“It’s just trying to step on people when they’re down,” said Daniel W. Duncan, president of the Northern Virginia Labor Federation. “It’s made our members mad. It’s got them worked up.” 

He noted that 5.4 percent of Virginia workers were members of unions in 2015, well below the national average of 11.1 percent, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

Wages in “right-to-work” states are 3% lower than in states without the anti-union bill on the books, according to a 2015 study by the Economic Policy Institute. Virginia is still “right-to-work,” but on Tuesday it managed to avoid the guarantee of perpetual free-riding.


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